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PGA Tour Q-School Deathwatch

Coming into the excruciating long week at PGA West for Q-school finals, Steven Bowditch felt like his form was taking a turn for the better. When you’re fighting to re-earn your job–the Australian had conditional status on the PGA Tour last year–the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

The Australian shot an eight-under 64 on the Nicklaus Tournament course to take a one-shot lead through 90 holes heading into Monday’s sixth and final round.

As he made his way toward the Golf Channel interview area, he asked me, “I’m not leading, am I?” I paused for a second and said, “Do you really want to know?” (Some guys don’t look at the leaderboard all week and I wanted to double-check before telling him.)

Indeed, you are.

“By how many?” he asked.

Let’s see…as of now, two.

Bowditch scratched his head and made an expression I can’t even describe and walked away. No massive expression of joy like many others. He was relatively stoic. All business. He knows there’s another round left and a lot can happen since the difference between first on the leaderboard and T24 is eight shots. And there will likely be guys outside the number going low and visa versa.

Reminder: top 25 and ties are awarded PGA Tour cards. However, there are seven players who have already secured their cards via finishing in the top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list. These guys decided to enter Q-school to try and improve their “number” or “priority ranking,” which is even more important with the compressed 2013 schedule.

As of now, Brad Fritsch and Nicholas Thompson are T11 and T15, respectively, so they don’t count toward the 25 cards. There are nine players tied for 24th, though, so if the tournament ended day, it wouldn’t make a difference.

But I digress. Back to the current leader.

Bowditch, who has struggled with major depression, opened the first round of Q-school by duck hooking his drive in the water on No. 10 at the Stadium Course. He scraped it around to finish with a one-over 73.

The general consensus among players for Q-school in these calm conditions is you can’t shoot over-par. Well, you can have one day, but only one player in 2008 when it was contested at PGA West in similar conditions posted a round over-par. The others were even or under-par in all six rounds.

Bowditch had a swing epiphany on the front nine of Nicklaus Tournament during the second round.

“I hit a terrible golf shot on No. 8,” said Bowditch after his round on Sunday. “And as soon as I hit that golf shot I knew what was wrong, and I fixed it straightaway, and ever since then I haven’t had a bogey I don’t think.”

He’s had one in the last 64 holes. I’m pretty sure every player in the field would take that.

What was the swing thought he figured out?

“My arm was way too high on the way back,” he explained. “It was making my shorter plane way too steep, so we just make it a lot more rounder, which we’ve been working on, but it was hard to put it in the game plan.  I was hitting it all over the shop, all over the lot for the first 26 holes, and just found it and trust it and playing good ever since.”

His swing coach Scott Hamilton didn’t see Bowditch’s form coming together as much as Steven did. Scott was nervous about Steven going into TPC Craig Ranch, where he played second stage, because he was really struggling when they parted ways at Disney (Bowditch shot 82-74).

“Now, when he got here this week after like the second day, I’m like, man, this is the best it’s been ever probably,” he said.

Scott said he worked with Bowditch on getting the club more behind him and down the line, whereas he felt like he’s across the line when he got here earlier in the week.

They took a video of his swing after Bowditch’s epiphany and Hamilton described it as “awesome.”

“I looked at it on the computer last night, and it’s the best it’s been where it was behind him and down the line,” said Hamilton, who also teaches Kevin Kisner, Boo Weekley, Brendon Todd, among others. “So the club is coming out of the top correctly, which slowed the facedown through the strike.  That’s the biggest thing.  He’s got a really calm face going through the hit right now.”

In Scott’s opinion another beneficial move Bowditch made was putting a 2-iron, like a driving iron, in his bag, on Monday or Tuesday, and took out a blade 3-iron.

“Out here Steven is so long, there’s two or three of those holes, he’s got to have something to hit out there and play because if you hit 3‑iron you’re too far back and if you hit 3‑wood you bring the bunkers in play,” said Hamilton. “So that’s helped him some.”

Since Bowditch started working with Hamilton about three years ago, his iron play has improved tremendously.

“I was always an average iron player,” Bowditch said. “My short game and around the greens and my driving was sort of my, I guess, strength, so to speak. But he’s really made me into a much better iron player. You know, I struggled all year with the driver, just haven’t driven it real good at all this year, and it’s sort of just come together this week.”

The strange thing is Bowditch, who considers himself a good putter, hasn’t been able to adjust to the speed of the greens (which are relatively slow here and good putters prefer fast). He said this is probably the worst putting week he’s had all year.

“Putting has been brutal,” he said.

Good news is he’s swinging it real well and he can’t be putting too terribly if he’s 23-under.