LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Stephen Ames was munching on sliders and drinking a few beers at his coach’s house Saturday night when he realized that he needed all the help he could get to make his final round of the year a special one.
So at the place where the entrance gates declare “Where Dreams Come True,” Ames figured he should give it a shot.
“I wished for 64,” Ames said, “and I got that 64.”
Ames won his second title in three years at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Sunday, edging George McNeill and Justin Leonard in a playoff to become the oldest winner in the tournament’s history.
The 45-year-old Ames was calm and cool on greens that were too slick for most of the field on a sun-baked day at Disney World. The Canadian finished with an 8-under 64 for the clubhouse lead, watching as McNeill (67) and Leonard (67) failed to pass him.
It was the first win of the year and fourth career victory for Ames, including The Players Championship in 2006. This time, he had a few extra people in the gallery.
Among those who followed him on the back nine was his 10-year-old son, Ryan, who provided a little extra motivation walking up to the 18th tee needing a birdie.
“He said, ‘Dad, you need to hole this,”’ Ames recalled. “I said, ‘All right, I’ll try my best.’ It was a very casual round. It’s Mickey Mouse, come on.”
Ames got some help.
Leonard rimmed out a 16-foot putt for the win in regulation, even beginning to pump his fist in celebration only to watch the ball spin away. He twice left putts short when he was eliminated on the first playoff hole – also the 18th.
“To be this close and not be able to pull it out is disappointing,” Leonard said. “Obviously, I thought I made it by my reaction. I was surprised it didn’t go in.”
Ames also caught another break.
After McNeill saved par on the first playoff hole despite landing his tee shot between the trees, he had a 6-foot putt on the 15th to force a third playoff hole. McNeill struck the ball right on the line, but it trickled around the edge and popped off to give Ames the win and the $828,000 first-place prize.
“It made a full 360,” McNeill said. “It went down in the hole, and then it spit back out.”
There were other rallies that didn’t end up on the leaderboard.
Sunday was the last day for players to secure a tour card for next year. Only those who finished the year in the top 125 on the money list are guaranteed full status. The next 25 will at least get conditional status and be able to enter more than a dozen tournaments.
For as much back and forth as there was throughout the week, in the end, there wasn’t a lot of movement.
Former world No. 1 David Duval already had lost his full status by missing the cut. Robert Garrigus also missed the cut and was knocked out of full status for next year.
Jimmy Walker and Nicholas Thompson were the only two players to move inside the top 125 after beginning the week outside. Walker finished at No. 125.
“It’s tough. You can’t do anything,” Walker said. “You just have to sit back and relax. Not relax, you can’t relax. But I did all I could do.”
There were plenty others who cut it close.
Rich Beem shot a 68 to finish at 10 under for the tournament. The 2002 PGA Championship winner finished at No. 122 for the season.
He admitted the pressure to perform this weekend got to him in the first two rounds. He talked to his coach Friday night and said that helped him find his swing.
“I must say it was about as odd as I’ve ever felt thinking about it. I never expected myself to feel the way that I did,” Beem said. “When somebody tells you that you can’t do your job next year when you know you’re so close, that’s not such a good feeling.”
After turning in his scorecard, Beem stood behind the 18th green watching a monitor with the projected money list. His name flip-flopped twice, and he had to walk away. He later walked into the media center to check the minute-by-minute standings.
“I’m sweating,” he said. “But things look good.”
Ames is going to have to rework his schedule now, too.
He wasn’t planning to try to play at the next year’s first event in Maui. That just happens to be the place the Ames family vacations every winter, and they were planning to leave a few days before the tournament.
Looks like they’ll need a new itinerary.
“I always tell Gary Player golf always gets in the way,” Ames said. “I don’t want to play golf. I want to sit on the beach and relax.”
Now he’ll get to do both.