Justin Leonard won in spite of himself Sunday at Hilton Head, S.C., making nary a birdie in capturing the WorldCom Classic.
Leonard made 16 pars and two bogeys in a round of 2-over 73. Still, he finished at 14-under-par 268, one shot clear of Heath Slocum (70). He also matched his largest career paycheck with a first-place prize of $720,000.
'I didn't feel like I've been (among the top players) the last couple of years,' said Leonard, who started the week 40th in the Official World Golf Ranking. 'This is certianly a step in the right direction.'
The win was particularly surprising considering Leonard had never finished inside the top 30 in six prior starts in this event.
'It means quite a bit - the changes I've made with my golf game are beginning to payoff,' he said.
A week removed from Tiger Woods baffling victory over five of top-ranked players in the world at the Masters Tournament, Leonard took a three-stroke lead into the final round at the Harbour Town Golf Links.
Cameron Beckman was his closest pursuer, with Slocum and Phil Mickelson four back.
Mickelson made only one birdie and three bogeys over his first nine holes Sunday. And thanks to a couple of late birdies, he was able to sneak into solo third place, at 12-under, with a round of even-par 71. It marked the fourth time in his last five starts that the left-hander has finished third.
Beckman fared far worse, recording two double bogeys and a triple. He finished with a 78 and plummeted into a tie for 19th.
Sunday proved to be a two-man race; actually, it was more like a two-man power walk.
Leonard, who, incidentally, completed a marathon late last year, parred each of his first 12 holes to maintain a three-stroke advantage. And though it was monotonous on the scorecard, it became more adventurous as the round extended.
The Texan made a 10-foot par putt at the seventh, a 12-footer for par at the 10th and a 30-foot save at the 11th. After making the bomb at No. 11, Leonard tipped his cap, looked skyward and mouthed, Thank you.
It was even more appreciated as Slocum stuffed his approach shot on the par-4 12th to six inches and tapped in for birdie to get within two shots, at 14-under.
Following a 12th successive par, Leonard found trouble off the tee at the par-4 13th. He clubbed a 3-wood way right, and was forced to pitch out. His third shot landed pin high, but in the second cut of greenside fringe. He failed to chip in, thus snapping himself out of pardom.
Leonards dropped shot, plus a 25-foot birdie by Slocum from off the green at the par-3 14th, equaled a tie at the top of the leaderboard, at 15-under-par.
Slocum then found himself in sole possession of the lead after an inexplicable hiccup by Leonard at No. 14. Having missed the green left with a 6-iron, Leonard lipped out a 70-foot chip shot. A foot and a half from another par save, he never so much as touched the hole.
'I was mad at myself when I missed that putt,' Leonard said.
Leonard snapped his two-hole bogey streak with a successful up-and-down at the par-5 15th ' after missing the green on his third shot from just 93 yards.
The next hole, however, resolved the tournament.
Slocum hit his tee shot at the 395-yard par-4 16th into the left waste bunker. His second shot landed in the greenside sand, 15 yards short of the putting surface. With little green to work with, he blasted his bunker shot some 50 feet past the flag, from where he three-putted for a double-bogey-6.
'Except for one hole, on 16, I played extremely well,' Slocum said after his career best PGA Tour finish. 'I'm pleased with how I played.'
Leonard, watching Slocum disintegrate from the fairway, had a chance to take a two-shot advantage with two holes to play, but failed to post his first birdie of the day when he missed a 10-foot putt at 16.
It didnt matter.
Leonard parred his final two holes to win his first tour title since his successful defense of the Texas Open a year ago.
Not that it was easy, of course. After a routine, two-putt par at the par-3 17th, he missed the green right at the par-4 finishing hole. Using his putter from the fringe, he nestled his first putt a couple of feet from the hole, and found the bottom of the cup with his second.
For the round, Leonard hit only six greens and took 25 putts.
'I'll learn more from today from shooting a 73 and winning by one stroke than by shooting a 68 and winning,' he said. 'I'll take more positives out of the win, that I gutted it out. I played some ugly golf and got it done.'
Full-field scores from the WorldCom Classic
Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.
The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.
There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates. And click here for the full collection of articles.
No. 1: Dec. 18