It was suggested to Graham DeLaet that this week’s Memorial would be a cool place to get his first PGA Tour win in front of Jack Nicklaus.
“I just have to beat Tiger. I probably have a 50-50 chance,” said DeLaet.
Don’t let him fool you. That statement was followed by a laugh. DeLaet isn’t cocky enough to start throwing it down verbally with Woods, who is gunning to defend his 2012 championship at Muirfield for his fifth win this season.
There is, however, a difference between cockiness and confidence and DeLaet is finding his place on the PGA Tour, with three top-10 finishes so far this year.
He’s coming off a week in which his first tour win was teetering between possible and probable at Colonial, but a final round 74 doused his chances at an event where DeLaet held the lead at various points, but tied for 22nd.
“In the long run, I came out of there with nothing but positives and I’m ready to go for this week,” said DeLaet.
“Anyone who actually watched my entire round on Sunday, I actually played okay. I didn’t play good enough to win the golf tournament, but I’ve never putted so well and made so little in one round of golf in my life,” he added.
“I burned edges and lipped out all day long. It just wasn’t meant to be. My speed was good. Maybe it was just slight misreads all day and it almost became comical how many putts were burning edges,” said DeLaet.
“It was so much fun being in the lead or in the mix, just that feeling that drives me to want to be there again because that’s what you play for — that adrenalin rush and everybody cheering for you and making putts. It’s just so much fun,” said DeLaet.
“I was in the final group last year in New Orleans and I felt like I held it together pretty good that day. I was trying to draw on that,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to get the ball in the hole (at Colonial). I controlled my emotions well, even on a day that things weren’t going well,” he added.
DeLaet is on the verge of cracking the top 100 in world rankings as he starts what’s commonly known as “Jack’s tournament. He’s also 56th on the money list and 48th in FedEx Cup points, with stats that back up that he’s headed in the right direction.
He’s second in tour greens in regulation and total driving, sixth in driving distance, 13th in scoring average and fourth in performance on par fives.
Those numbers add up to a different guy from Weyburn, Sask., who made the rare jump directly from the Canadian Tour to the PGA Tour after tying for eighth at Q-school in 2009.
Despite missing most of the 2011 season after back surgery, DeLaet came right back to flirt with leads last year and opened with the first round lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii after a seven-under 63, but wound up tying for 29th.
In New Orleans last year, he was one off the lead going into the final round when he shot a one-under 71 to tie for fourth. His three top 10s this year are part of his nine so far, dating back to his rookie year in 2010 and he says his thought process is changing this year.
“Even early last year when I would get to 12th place, I’d see myself on the leaderboard and I would think in the back of my head, even if it’s only Friday, that if I can kind of maintain this position, I’ll make a cheque for 100 grand and this and that,” said DeLaet.
“I don’t think like that anymore. If I’m in 12th, I want to get to eighth and if I’m in eighth, I want to get to fifth and I think that’s the progression of my game. I just feel like I’m maturing as a player and just kind of finding my spot out here,” he said.
It’s not about playing defence in order to survive on tour. It’s now about upward mobility to succeed on tour.
“I’m not worried about making enough money to keep my card anymore. It’s more about putting myself in that position to win and once I get there, just finishing it off and that’s the last little step, I guess,” said DeLaet, who has been down this road before.
In his rookie year on the Canadian Tour in 2007, he started the season with four top 10s, but didn’t push it over the top in a season that saw him finish with seven top 10s overall to win rookie of the year.
“I had chances to win and never was able to really do it and the more and more times I was there, the more comfortable I became, then there was the breakthrough win in Montreal and then, I felt like I could win every week out there,” he said.
That first win came late in the 2008 season in a playoff victory that, along with two ensuing second place finishes, sent him into the following year in which he won twice and had six top-10s overall to sweep him into Q-school, which took him to where he is now.
“Obviously, the competition is more difficult out here and you’ve got to really be on your game to be in that position, but at the same time, I feel like I do have the skill set to be there and it’s just kind of believing in that and going from there,” he said.