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Welch, Sisk use first stage to school the competition

JOHN DALY He squanders exemptions JOHN DALY He squanders exemptions

Michael Welch and Geoff Sisk are local golfers who've crossed paths in recent years at vastly different points in their careers.

Welch is from North Quincy and has been a pro for barely two years; Sisk is from Marshfield and has won everything there is to win on the New England professional scene. Competitors on the North American Pro Golf Tour the last two summers, Welch and Sisk were paired in one of 12 first-stage sites in the annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, and the veteran liked what he saw from the youngster.

"He hits it long and straight and he's really hitting his long irons well," said Sisk. "I think he's headed in the right direction."

Indeed, both were, for the fact that they were in the final pairing for the third round showed how well they were playing. In the end, Welch's 65-66-67-67 -265 earned medalist honors by one shot over Sisk (66-64-67-69) at Florence, S.C., as both breezed through the first stage.

"I played solid all week and it definitely gives me a lot of confidence as I move forward," said Welch, who is making his first run at Q School. That makes him the opposite of Sisk, who's been at it for more years than he'd like to remember. But it's that experience that allows Sisk to put things in perspective. While it was only the first stage, Sisk felt relieved, because he's missed at that point before and knows that hollow feeling. Yet he's been to the second stage enough times to know the challenge is more difficult, "because now you're throwing in a lot of Nationwide Tour players and even some longtime PGA Tour guys," said Sisk, who was a PGA Tour member in 1999.

At 42, Sisk remains committed to his dream of making it back, because "it's the best place in the world to play."

In session

No surprise, but New Englanders experienced the wide spectrum of emotions at those first-stage tournaments last week. Whereas New Bedford's Kevin Silva finished birdie, birdie, birdie to shoot 277 and make it through on the number in Florence, Rob Oppenheim of Andover failed to advance in Lakeland, Fla., missing by one shot. Jim Renner of Plainville shot 72-68-70-67 to finish tied for ninth and easily get out of that Lakeland site, and Rhode Islander Rod Butcher was tied for 19th, so he'll move on. Michael Capone of Cranston, R.I., and John Elliott of Connecticut missed at Lakeland, while Matt Donovan of Pittsfield and Justin Goodhue of Glastonbury, Conn., were tied for 40th, so they didn't advance out of Florence. The news was positive in Spring, Texas, as onetime University of Rhode Island standout Michael Sims finished joint sixth and moved on, but in Lantana, Texas, Rhode Islander Joey Iaciofano fell short . . . In another round of first-stage tests this week, the roster of New England entrants includes Michael Carbone of Brewster, Jamie Neher of Weston, Justin Peters of Pembroke, Tim Acquaviva of Andover, and Fran Quinn of Holden . . . Former teenage phenom Ty Tryon is among those playing at a first-stage site in Auburn, Ala., this week, while Jay Haas Jr. failed to make it out of last week's tournament in Florence.

Forget about it

When his mother called and wondered why she hadn't seen his name on the entry list for last week's Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro, Billy Andrade said his heart sank. He had made a mistake that 20-year veterans of the PGA Tour don't often make. "I forgot to enter," said Andrade. "It was just dumb on my part." For sure, Andrade is not in position to skip an event. With $490,917, he sits 148th on the money list and is faced with the prospect of finishing outside the top 125 for the first time since his rookie year, 1988. If there was one bright side to his mother's call, it was that it prompted Andrade to get his entry in for this week's final stop, at Disney World. "It shouldn't have happened, but it slipped through the cracks," said Andrade . . . Just days after the Deutsche Bank Championship, Brett Quigley chose to have surgery to relieve constant pain in his right knee. At the time, he was 109th on the money list and had every reason to think his $717,411 would be good enough to keep him within the top 125. But players have teed it up and taken off on the money list during the seven-tournament "Fall Finish." Justin Leonard has made $1,101,725 in six weeks, Daniel Chopra $1,090,478, Mark Hensby $602,320, Shigeki Maruyama $526,103, Johnson Wagner $505,200, Cameron Beckman $491,345, Mathias Gronberg $408,249, Bill Haas $407,683, Tommy Armour $270,900, and Ryan Armour $256,300. In Jupiter, Fla., meanwhile, Quigley has shaken free of the crutches, but watched his position on the money list slip to 128th. Quigley will have a limited medical exemption for 2008 - he'll have six or seven tournaments to add to his money figure in an effort to get within the top 125 . . . Though he's sitting 219th on the money list, Brad Faxon will be fully exempt in 2008. That's because he'll use a one-time exemption for being top 25 in career money (he's 24th). Like Quigley, Faxon had surgery in September, for bunions on his right foot. Just last week, he was able to play and was encouraged by how his foot responded and how he swung. If all goes well in the coming weeks, Faxon said he would get right into the swing of things at the Sony Open in Hawaii (Jan. 10-13).

Daly requirement

Words you should never hear: "There's no quit in John Daly." There's plenty of quit in that large body. Last week's departure from the Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro in Port St. Lucie, Fla., after a third-round 79 was his sixth withdrawal of the season. That's on top of the five he had in 2006, and while it remains his prerogative to treat his game with so little respect, it's a shame he's doing likewise to sponsors who inexplicably remain faithful to him. Daly did not have full-exempt status in 2007, yet sponsors tripped over themselves in a rush to deliver invitations. In return, the sponsors all too often were paid back not with an IOU, but a WD. Sad, though the folks running this week's tournament didn't fall for it. They handed out sponsor's exemptions to Duffy Waldorf, Lee Janzen, Jay Williamson, and 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa. You can be sure each will treat the invite with great respect, unlike Daly, who continues with a career slide that isn't representative of his immense talent. In 24 tournaments this year, he made just eight cuts and earned a mere $248,501. In the last two years, he's made just $440,635 in 45 PGA Tour starts. The thing is, he'll no doubt be offered a flood of sponsor's exemptions again in 2008, while more deserving players try to earn their keep via Q School.

Cutting it close

James Driscoll knows he's backed himself into a corner. He just can't explain why. "I haven't played that badly. I just haven't been able to put it all together," said the Brookline native. He sits 24th on the money list with only this week's Nationwide Tour Championship remaining. Driscoll owns just a $6,191 lead over No. 26 on the list as he attempts to maintain a top-25 money standing to earn back his PGA Tour card for 2008. Granted, he's still on the positive side of the line, but Driscoll knows he hasn't helped himself. Since finishing second at a tournament in early August, Driscoll has missed the cut in five of his last seven starts . . . The news is better for Rhode Islander Patrick Sheehan, who sits ninth on the Nationwide Tour money list and will return to the PGA Tour ranks, where he held status from 2003-06. Though he hasn't won this year, Sheehan has made the cut in 22 of 29 events and piled up eight top-10s . . . The Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament will commence Nov. 6, and the field will include Anna Grzebien of Narragansett, R.I., and amateur Susan Choi of Natick. Grzebien, who graduated in May after a sterling career at Duke, is also entered into the LPGA Tour's final stage of qualifying Nov. 28-Dec. 2.

University rules

Brian Cawley, a Salem State senior from Lynnfield, shot 70-74 to score a three-stroke victory in the 73d annual New England Intercollegiate Golf Association Championship at Captains Golf Course in Brewster. It was the first NEIGA victory for a Salem State golfer since Jason Potty in 1995, but in the team competition, it was an old story: URI won for the fourth straight year and 10th time in 11 years. With URI players finishing third (Jarryd Dillas, 74-74) and tied for fourth (Brad Valois, 75-74), the Rams beat the University of Connecticut by eight strokes. Bryant finished third, Salem State fourth, and Dartmouth fifth. UConn's Brian Travalja (72-75) finished second to Cawley . . . Led by medalist Claire Sheldon of Milton, the Harvard women finished 10 shots clear of runner-up Yale to win the Kelly Gutshall Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa. Sheldon shot 82-73 to storm to a seven-stroke victory . . . At the Stanford Intercollegiate, Arizona's Alison Walshe, a senior from Westford, shot 74-72-71 to get into a tie for eighth. Kim Donovan, a Duke freshman from Hopkinton, was joint 33d . . . Sarah Whitney of Hingham, a freshman, was the second-best scorer for William & Mary in the team's fall finale at Mid-Pines Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. With scores of 78-79-79 -236, Whitney was tied for 19th . . . Peter Uihlein of Mattapoisett joined some rather distinguished company when he was named the American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year for a second time. Among the four other players who've earned that prestigious title twice are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson . . . At a Future Collegiate World Tour stop at Newport National GC, Brian Murphy of Wilton, Conn., shot 76-76, then prevailed in a three-way playoff with John Brennan of East Longmeadow and Tobin Dunigan . . . Larry Walsh of Concord plays a lot at Red Tail GC in Devens, but a trip to Granite Links GC in Quincy provided a lifetime memory. At the par-5 ninth hole of the Milton Nine, he holed out from 210 yards with a 5-wood for a double eagle.

Jim McCabe can be reached at jmccabe@globe.com.

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