Vaughn Taylor will take the road to his goals in measured steps instead of a desperate charge.
The temptation for a player to overextend himself in pursuit of a dream is considerable. Hometown players Taylor and Charles Howell understand that the only way they're likely to get to play in Augusta this year is by winning before April, and there are only 10 maximum at-bats for players not ranked at least among to the top 64 in the world.
Last season Taylor and Howell played in 10 events each before the Masters, neither qualifying for the season's first major. Taylor, for one, plans to be a little more patient and show more restraint this time. As of now he only plans to makes seven starts in the season's first 13 weeks.
"I'm trying this year to just play where I've played well at before or feel like I have a good chance to play well, rather than just force it and go to a lot of events I haven't had success at," Taylor said, proving that point by skipping the regular season opener in Hawaii where he's only made two cuts in five career starts.
In his seventh full season on the PGA Tour, Taylor is putting his experience to use. He's averaged 29 starts a season, twice playing as many as 32 weeks. Since he'll turn 34 in March, pacing himself a little better could pay off.
"You always want to be out there playing and sometimes it's just tough to sit at home and watch it on TV," he said. "If you can discipline yourself to take time off you know you're going to be better off when you get out there because you'll be rested and playing somewhere that you like.
"I'll still end up playing 25 or 26 events, which is where I want to be anyway. Anything in the 30 range is getting pretty tiring. You can get away with it your first couple of years, but year after year it's tough."
The last couple of seasons have taken a particularly hard toll on Taylor. Worse than dealing with summertime allergies has been battling on the bubble of retaining his tour status. Each of the last two years, he's been fighting deep into the fall series to get himself inside the top 125 on the money list -- securing it both years with runner-up finishes in one of his final events.
Taylor knows the best way to take care of that issue is to earn his first victory since repeating as the champion in Reno-Tahoe in 2005.
"I'd like to get in the winner's circle to get back into Augusta and the playoffs and the Tour Championship," Taylor said. "But mostly I'd just like to get a win. I was close at Turning Stone and feel like I can get it done this year."
Turning Stone was a real turning point for Taylor in October. He lost to Matt Kucher in sudden death on the sixth playoff hole, but the performance was a big lift after a long season, which to that point included only three top-20 finishes.
"I was struggling a little bit and you lose confidence when you're not playing that great," Taylor said. "Turning Stone more than anything gave me a lot of confidence that I could do it. You never know if you're going to get back in that situation. You always want to believe but you never know."
Taylor is ready to prove again that he's the same player who qualified for the 2006 Ryder Cup and contended into Sunday at the 2007 Masters. The quickest way he can show that is by qualifying again for his hometown major.
"My first goal this first half of the year is to still get into Augusta," he said.
But can focusing so hard on one special event be detrimental? Both Taylor and Howell have admitted that their love of Augusta National can interfere with their success.
"Living here I want to play there so bad that it can definitely hurt you at times," said Taylor, who lives in Evans. "That's one thing I'm going to try to do this season is just go out there and play and if things fall into place they fall in place. I don't want to put any added pressure on myself. I think I'm in the right state of mind for that."
Keeping him in that comfort zone is a cast of trusted people. Unlike Howell, who has undergone multiple changes in swing coaches and agents and caddies and equipment, Taylor likes to keep the elements of his golf life consistent. He still works with swing coaches Jack Lumpkin and Mark McCann and putting guru Pat O'Brien.
But perhaps his most trusted ally is his caddie -- lifelong Augusta friend Trey Keepers.
The two reconnected full time at the end of 2008 the week Taylor tied for second at the Ginn sur Mer Classic.
"Me and Trey have been buddies for a long time," Taylor said. "He's a lot of fun and he knows me as good as anybody. He's my right-hand man out there and it's good we've known each other for a long time and have a bit of an extra bond there."
After a couple months away, the partners have picked up where they left off. They chose to kick the year off at the Bob Hope Classic, where Taylor tied for eighth two years ago and has never missed the cut.
"The Bob Hope courses are much easier and set up for the pro-am," Taylor said. "It's just a good way to start if you're a little rusty in the beginning of the season."
Through three of five rounds, Taylor has shown little rust and is 10-under and tied for 38th after slipping out of the top 10 with 73 on Saturday.
But while Howell (T15, 13-under) will try to ride a hot streak into a third and fourth consecutive week at Torrey Pines and Riviera, Taylor will maintain his patient quest and not play more than two weeks in a row.
"Just trying to do a little something different this year," he said.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORLD RANKING: 119
2010: One start (tied for 5th)
2010 PGA TOUR MONEY LIST: 15th ($200,750)
BEST 2009 FINISH: Tied for second (Transitions Championship; Zurich Classic of New Orleans)
PGA TOUR VICTORIES (2): 2002 Michelob Championship; 2007 Nissan Open
WORLD RANKING: 236
2010: First start this weekend
BEST 2009 FINISHES: Tied for second (Turning Stone Resort Classic, lost in playoff); tied for eighth (Buick Open)
PGA TOUR VICTORIES (2): 2004 Reno-Tahoe Open; 2005 Reno-Tahoe Open