Date: May 02, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Ruffels desperate for dry spell

Whatever the opposite of a rain dance is, Ryan Ruffels is probably doing it right now.

The Victorian, who turned 18 last week, is using the sixth of seven sponsor invites to play on the US PGA Tour and is on the cusp of his best finish – but is in pitched battle with the New Orleans weather gods to make it pay.

The Zurich Classic has been cut to 54 holes after torrential rain across the Gulf of Mexico and play extended to Monday (Louisiana time),  but if forecast afternoon downpours arrive early, Ruffels’ gains threaten to be diminished.

The PGA Tour has convened a 7am Monday start and advised players there’s only a likelihood of a four-hour window in which to complete play. Should half the field (41 or more) end their third round before a terminal delay, there remains the option that there could be a Tuesday (local time) finish.

But if that figure isn’t reached, the tournament will be called off after 36 holes, leaving Ruffels with a substantial cheque, but potentially a big chop on the FedEx Cup points he so desperately needs as he races time to earn playing rights for next year.

Ruffels is one of a host of Australian players at the upper end of the leaderboard chasing little-known American Brian Stuard at 13 under through eight holes.

Jason Day is T5 at -10 through eight holes; in a bunch at T10 and -9 are Stuart Appleby (13 holes) and John Senden (eight holes); Ruffels is T14 at -8 through 12 holes; Cam Percy is T24 at -7 through nine holes and Marc Leishman is T33 and -6 through seven holes.

All have reasons to push hard, particularly Appleby and Percy as they chase to maintain playing rights.

Golf Australia rookie squad member Ruffels is in a slightly different battle, needing enough FedEx Cup points to win a spot on a tour next year.

Should he make the equivalent of top 125, he will earn a PGA Tour card; should he finish in the top 200, he’ll earn enough to advance to the four-event Tour finals later this year.

The chances of both would soar if he could continue the form he’s shown between rain breaks in New Orleans.

Ruffels played one hole of his third round on (American) Saturday, then managed another 11 today in moving up from T17 after the second round and into striking distance of a big pay day.

Ideally, a top-10 finish would earn him a “free” start at Quail Hollow next week without using an exemption – and Ruffels is “just now starting to feel confident” he can match it with the big guys on tour.

“I got a bit knocked around my last three starts (missed cuts at Arnold Palmer Invitational, Heritage and Texas Open), but it taught me a lot,” Ruffels said.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to happen, obviously, but it was a good experience to go through and I know it probably didn’t look like it from back home, but I actually started to go all right towards the end of Hilton Head (Heritage).

“I only missed the cut by one and was just getting a feel for the course, so that has helped me (mentally) this week.

“I’ve actually had six three-putts this week, so without them I’m right there in the mix. I’ve made a few, too, but they’re just disappointing.

“But what it shows is the hard work is paying off and if I can get rid of those `amateurish’ mistakes, then I’m not too far off.”

Ruffels, who finished T43 on pro debut at Torrey Pines then T60 at Pebble Beach after a poor last round, said one of the difficulties he faced this year was learning courses in time to be competitive.

“That’s a hard thing because everyone else has that knowledge of the courses we play at and it’s taking me a couple of rounds to piece it together.

“But I feel like I’ve got through that a bit this week and it’s just disappointing I’ve only got seven holes left instead of 25 because I really feel like I could make a bit of a run if we hadn’t had this rain.

“Still, I just have to go out tomorrow and hopefully get it done. It’s simple.”

Good news for Ruffels is that his drive down the tough 12th at the TPC Lousiana Golf Club has split the middle and he already has eight back-nine birdies this week, including two in his current round.