Rutledge, 47, to Join PGA Tour as Rookie

Thursday, December 7th 2006, 6:32 am
By: News On 6

ST. JAMES, Barbados (AP) _ No matter what he tried, Jim Rutledge knew he could not get his wife to quit caddying for him over the final three weeks of the Nationwide Tour season.

``She wanted to finish the job,'' Rutledge said.

This week at the World Cup in Barbados, Jill Rutledge isn't on the bag _ largely because the family's longtime quest has finally been fulfilled. Next month, Jim Rutledge is off to the PGA Tour, as the second-oldest rookie in its history.

The 47-year-old from Victoria, British Columbia, will represent Canada with Mike Weir in the final event of the World Golf Championships season starting Thursday, then begin tuning for the slate of 2007 events starting in January.

He earned his first card by finishing 14th on the Nationwide money list, 28 years after turning pro.

``I'm getting used to it and getting excited about getting started next year,'' said Rutledge, who'll try to supplement his schedule by playing some Monday qualifiers and try to obtain some sponsor's exemptions early in the new season. ``It has been a long time in waiting and trying over and over.''

And over.

And over again.

He's played all over the world, plus tried _ and failed _ to reach the PGA Tour through Q-school an astounding 13 times. Eventually, the inevitable sense of self-doubt crept in, and Rutledge began to seriously wonder if his PGA Tour plans would ever become reality.

``He's always had the talent, I felt like, to be on the PGA Tour,'' Weir said. ``It's just taken him a longer time to get there.''

Rutledge's final-round 64 gave him the ING New Zealand PGA Championship back in February, plus a $113,684 winner's check that kept him among the Nationwide money leaders all year. It wound up being enough to guarantee him his card; only Allen Doyle, who was 48, was older when he joined the tour in 1995.

``It's great,'' Rutledge said. ``It's fun. It's been a lot of fun.''

Weir said inviting Rutledge to join him and represent Canada at the World Cup was a simple decision.

``It wound up being a pretty easy choice because of his play this year, consistent play,'' Weir said. ``He also won. ... I knew with his game that if he had a full year to compete on the Nationwide Tour he'd somehow get into that top 20 and get on the PGA Tour.''

First up, though, is the World Cup _ an event pitting two-man teams from 24 nations against one another, using a match-play format in a stroke-play setup. The format calls for four-ball (best ball) competition Thursday and Saturday, then foursomes (alternate shot) Friday and Sunday.

Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge of Wales are the defending champions.

``It was obviously a fantastic achievement for us last year, something we really went out and tried to do,'' Dodd said. ``And we're going to try to do the same thing this year.''

The United States, which last won the World Cup in 2000, is represented by Stewart Cink and J.J. Henry, who were a strong pair at this year's Ryder Cup. Other top teams in the field include England's pairing of Luke Donald and David Howell, along with the Irish team of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

``The longer I go on playing on the PGA Tour, the more I get a kick out of playing for the United States,'' Cink said. ``It's just something that never gets old and whether it's the President's Cup, the Ryder Cup, the World Cup, whatever, it's just a lot of fun.''

Many of the world's top players declined a chance to play World Cup, with schedule concerns or other factors figuring into their decision. The invitations go to the top-ranked players in the world, one per eligible nation, and continue until someone agrees to play and chooses a teammate.

Rutledge said he didn't hesitate when Weir asked him to play.

``There's so few of us eligible for this and out there and playing,'' Rutledge said. ``When you get a chance to play, I jump on it immediately. It's an honor to represent your country and when you've worked hard to get here, you've got to take them up on the chance to play in something like this.''