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Allred battles back to PGA Tour

Just when things looked easy for Jason Allred, they got difficult.

The Ashland native put together the lowest four rounds of his golf career to begin the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament last week, then fought like the dickens to hold it together for two more rounds and, on Monday, earn his 2008 PGA Tour playing privileges.

What seemed from the outside like a walk in the park was anything but.

"That fifth round was the hardest round of golf I've ever played," Allred, a 27-year-old who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said of Sunday's play. "I had to battle that feeling of trying not to screw up rather than playing aggressively and playing my game. It was a tough day, but a good day. I learned a lot."

He was still well up the leaderboard — something he refused to look at the entire week — following the even-par fifth round that put him in fourth place. But then came a fitful night of sleep in advance of Monday's final round.

The top 25 players and ties would earn their cards. He appeared to be a lock, but it was an unfamiliar feeling.

"I haven't been in a whole lot of big tournaments where I essentially had a big lead or was where I wanted to be," said Allred. "In this case, I was ahead of the bubble. I realized there are a lot of different emotions that come with that rather than when you're chasing the leader."

But he was more than able to hold it together.

After going 21 under the first four days at Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, Fla., his final two rounds of 72 allowed him to finish in fifth place for the tournament.

It'll be a return engagement to the PGA Tour for Allred, who played the 2005 season on the big stage after making his way through Q-school. He has 33 PGA events under his belt.

Allred played the past two seasons on the Nationwide Tour, placing 74th on the money list in 2007. He earned $81,071 in 29 events.

Results-wise, said Allred, it wasn't as successful as he'd hoped. But his game rounded into form as he played consistently against top competition.

"Ever since the summer, I've felt like my game was really good and really close," he said. "Every tournament, I felt like I was on the cusp of breaking through, but then I'd have a stretch of holes that kind of knocked me out of it. To have it all come together like this at the end of the year feels really good."

And it has him ready for another go at the PGA.

"The first thing that comes to mind is that I'm so excited to have another chance to compete out there," said Allred, adding that going through struggles on the Nationwide Tour has girded him for the next challenge. "I feel like I'm a much better player now than I was before. I'm really excited to take it out there and put it to the test, so to speak."

The courses at Q-school, Panther Lake and Crooked Cat, set up well for Allred because there are five par 5s on the former. Allred is among the game's longer hitters, having ranked eighth on the Nationwide this past year in driving distance at 305 yards per measured drive, and he was able to take advantage.

He recorded a whopping six eagles — including one on a par 4 — and played the 27 par 5s in 19 under.

"I wanted to birdie half of them," he said, "and I felt like if I did that and played solid everywhere else, I'd be all right."

Naturally, it was a par 5 that helped him negotiate the daunting fifth round.

Allred was 2 over par when he got to his 11th hole at Panther Lake. He did some soul searching moments earlier and came out swinging against a generous fairway.

"I just decided to have a little fun with that tee shot," he said. "I didn't care what the swing looked like or how my balance was or anything. I just let it rip."

The drive was a beauty, as was the downwind 6-iron he hit 200 yards to within 8 feet of the cup. His eagle putt was true and he was back on track.

"All of a sudden, score-wise, I got back to even par for the day," said Allred. "And more than that, it felt great to shake some of the fears I'd been dealing with that day. I played the last seven holes really well. I didn't get a lot out of it because I lipped out some putts, but it was close to being a lot better."

Among Allred's goals — some were score related, he said, and others pertained to attitude and strategy — was to shoot even par or better every round. When it came to the last of his 108 holes of the week, he had a 5-foot par putt to make the number one last time.

"I was grinding over that putt," he said. "I definitely wanted to meet that goal."

He then raced over and hugged his wife, Kimberly, and headed to the scoreboard for the first time all week.

Even without being a board gazer, he knew he was in good shape throughout the week because he was always in the last or next-to-last threesome.

His reasoned that he didn't want to worry about what other players were doing, only about what he could control.

The first PGA event Allred figures to play in will be the Sony Open in Honolulu Jan. 11. He tied for 17th place there in 2005, marking his best finish on tour.

The PGA stays in the West through February before moving to Florida.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Jason Allred, shown at right giving golf tips to Dennis Flenner last spring at Rogue Valley Country Club, secured a PGA Tour card Monday.