Oct 05, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Four days were not enough to resolve the PGA Tour’s Turning Stone Resort Championship at Atunyote Golf Club — perhaps fitting, given the long and exhausting path it took to get there.
Vaughn Taylor and Matt Kuchar had to come back early Monday morning to resolve a sudden-death playoff that had been called Sunday due to darkness after both made birdie on the 18th hole and par on the 12th hole.
And when it was done, after six holes (the longest playoff on Tour this season), Kuchar had won with a par on the 13th hole, helped in no small part by Taylor pulling his drive into the water.
So ended a wild week that began with frightening weather and ended with an exciting blitz of made shots and missed shots that had the galleries buzzing.
Of course, few were out there on Thursday and Friday, braving raw elements similar to what took place early in the 2008 tournament. Cold temperatures, rain and even some wind forced players into multiple layers of clothing and even some ski hats.
Due to all the rain that did fall before the tournament, golfers were allowed to lift and replace their balls within a club’s length in both the fairways and rough, a rare situation. Among other things, it helped the scores stay low all week.
Tim Petrovic and Leif Olson took the best advantage of it in Thursday’s opening round, braving the worst of the weather with six-under-par rounds of 66 to share the early lead.
Right from the start, Taylor and Kuchar were involved. Taylor is best known for playing on the 2006 United States Ryder Cup team, while Kuchar is a former U.S. Amateur champion whose immense talent has not quite turned into professional stardom.
On the chilly Thursday, Taylor and Kuchar shot 67, and Taylor added another 67 in the second round as he avoided rain most of the day and used terrific wedge play. At the midway point, Taylor, with a 10-under-par 134, was one shot ahead of Kuchar (who had an eagle on the 12th hole), plus Olson and Nicholas Thompson.
Finally, good weather showed up on Saturday — sunshine, the thermometer near 70 degrees, and little breeze. The ideal conditions led to more red numbers, including Mathias Gronberg’s 64, the low round of the tournament to that point.
Taylor didn’t join in the fun, though, only managing a 71 and getting passed in the process. Kuchar put together a bogey-free 67 and moved into a tie for the lead with Scott Piercy at 14-under-par 202. They led Olson and Rod Pampling (who fired a 65) by one shot with 18 holes to play.
As it turned out, they would need a lot more than 18 holes to resolve matters. It was an exciting Sunday, where Peter Lonard’s course-record 63 (he tied for 12th at 275), plus low rounds by Jeev Milkha Singh (64), Webb Simpson, Harrison Frazar and Bo Van Pelt (65 each), set the tone for the craziness to follow.
Piercy, trying for his first PGA Tour win, slumped to a 73, while Kuchar worked through two early bogeys and kept a share of the lead through much of the front nine with a revolving door of contenders, including Singh, Thompson and Olson.
Then Kuchar caught fire at the turn, with three straight birdies on 8, 9 and 10. As that was happening, though, Taylor and Petrovic were both sliding back into the picture with their own set of birdie.
As Kuchar was playing the 9th, a roar went up from the 12th. On that par-five, Taylor’s 70-yard wedge shot took one hop and dove into the hole for an eagle, briefly giving him the lead before Kuchar’s own birdie charge put him one ahead of Taylor and Petrovic.
Taylor bogeyed 15, briefly putting him two back, but he birdied 16 and, just as Kuchar was making a sloppy bogey on 13, Taylor sank another birdie on the par-four 17th to move up to 17 under par, alone in the lead.
Playing the par-five 18th for the first time on Sunday, Taylor laid up, but put too much spin on his wedge shot and had to settle for par, posting 271, and waiting to see if it was enough.
Petrovic could not make the extra birdie he needed. He made par on holes 13 through 17 and, on 18, saw a 14-foot putt to tie Taylor slide just right of the hole. At 272, Petrovic would finish tied with Olson, who saw a bogey at 15 keep him from reaching the playoff.
Now it was up to Kuchar. One shot back, he made pars on 14 and 15, but then drained a 15-foot, downhill, right-to-left putt on the par-three 16th to catch Taylor. One more birdie in regulation would win it.
After a par on 17, Kuchar flubbed a wedge shot on the 18th into the front bunker. Needing to get up and down to force a playoff, Kuchar came within six inches of holing the sand shot, and the par meant that Kuchar and Taylor would go back to the 18th tee once more.
Approaching from the left rough, Taylor hit a superb short iron to two feet. Kuchar answered with a wedge to nine feet and, knowing he had to make the putt to stay alive, drained it for birdie. Taylor converted, too, and the pair went to the 12th where, with darkness rapidly approaching, both players made par.
This set up Monday morning, where the drama kept going for another hour as fans got free admission to see how Kuchar and Taylor resolved it.
On the par-four 13th, Taylor hit his approach shot, his chip shot long and made bogey. Kuchar, with a four-foot par putt to win it, missed.
Back to the 18th again, where Taylor seemed to have an advantage when he hit his approach to eight feet. But Kuchar drained a 20-foot birdie putt, forcing Taylor to sink his own putt to stay alive – which he did.
Going through the 12th hole yet again (the fifth hole of the playoff), both players parred, setting up the fateful 13th – where Taylor’s drive into the pond gave Kuchar yet another chance to win.
From the middle of the fairway, Kuchar hit his approach short and right – but chipped it close enough to make the par putt that ended the 78-hole marathon.
The win earned Kuchar $1.08 million and moved him to 25th on the PGA Tour’s money list. If he can hold on to his top-30 spot through the rest of the “Fall Series”, Kuchar will gain exemptions to the 2010 Masters and U.S. Open.