ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – It was a playoff potpourri.
There was the veteran hot on the comeback trail, the affable champion-in-waiting trying to shed the double-edged moniker “Best player without a Tour title,” and the newcomer vying to make a name for himself.
Seems about right that a place known for its captivating sunsets would turn into a race against darkness. Not that Robert Streb thought he would be around when the dust and dusk settled.
Not after he began his week by snap hooking his opening tee shot into a bush on Thursday on his way to a double bogey. Not after he began the day five strokes off the lead and promptly bogeyed his first hole on Sunday.
But Streb is nothing if not resilient, as his slow and largely unspectacular climb to the winner’s circle has proven. This is the same player, after all, who couldn’t land a spot on the golf team at his beloved University of Oklahoma and instead turned to Kansas State, hardly a NCAA powerhouse, because, “getting that degree was more important.”
Much like most things in the 27-year-old’s life, his climb to the McGladrey Classic title was long and very much in doubt until the very end. Even when he signed for a 7-under 63 more than an hour before the frontrunners were finished for a 14-under total, he didn’t figure his time had come.
“When we got on (No.) 18 and saw we were tied I thought we might get into a playoff if we birdied the 18th,” said Streb’s caddie, Steve Catlin.
Streb didn’t birdie the closing hole, but as the day wore on it became more and more likely he’d get a second chance at his first PGA Tour title.
Brendon de Jonge took his share of the lead with a birdie at the 12th hole, but played his last six holes in even par to finish at 14 under; and the always entertaining Will MacKenzie three-putted No. 16 for bogey, but scratched his way into the playoff with a 5 footer for birdie at the penultimate hole.
At the first playoff hole, No. 18, MacKenzie pushed his drive into the right rough and found a greenside bunker with his approach for bogey in his attempt to win his third Tour title and his first since 2008.
“I didn’t blow it but I didn’t execute like I needed to,” said MacKenzie, who lost his Tour card in 2012 but posted five top-10 finishes last season and advanced to the third playoff event.
It wasn’t until the second extra frame that Streb felt in control of the tournament when his 8-iron tee shot sailed to 4 feet for birdie to secure his breakthrough.
“I never really came back from that far behind,” said Streb, whose best finish before the McGladrey Classic was a runner-up showing earlier this year at the Zurich Classic. “So I know it could be done, but it didn't really cross my mind there until the end.”
For de Jonge it was another heartbreak that has now stretched to 212 Tour starts without a “W,” and as he made his way to his car he embraced the question that has been building since his first runner-up finish at the 2012 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
“I do think about (being the best player without a Tour title) just because I’ve had so many chances, because I’ve been there or there abouts the lead so many times,” de Jonge said. “It wears on me but it’s up to me to break through.”
For MacKenzie, the McGladrey Classic was an opportunity to complete a comeback that began early last season with five top-10 finishes in his first 13 events. Although he didn’t finish the year the way he would have wanted, his play at Sea Island Resort was another indication he is headed in the right direction.
“It was a tough day. I didn't have my game, but I actually hit a lot of great shots today,” said MacKenzie, one of 21 players in this week’s field headed for next week’s stop in Malaysia.
“I was hitting it on the right side of the hole playing smart, smart, conservative, solid golf, but then you know, time was kind of ticking and you kept thinking, ‘When is he going to screw one of these up?’”
Time is now on Streb’s side.
With Streb and his wife Maggie expecting the couple’s first child in February, his overtime victory scored him two years of job security and a start at next year’s Masters, which will be his first major start.
It was a triumph that began with last season’s near-miss in New Orleans, when he finished two shots behind Seung-Yul Noh.
“I think he believed in himself then,” Catlin said.
That belief was fueled even more in September when Streb eagled the final hole to finish tied for ninth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a rally he initially thought earned him a spot in the third FedEx Cup playoff stop.
But in one of the mathematical twists that has become so much a part of golf’s playoffs, Jason Day birdied the 18th hole in the final round at TPC Boston to bump Streb out of the top 7 and two points behind Jerry Kelly for the 70th spot on the FedEx Cup point list and a start at the BMW Championship.
“Honestly I thought I'd made it to the BMW,” Streb said. “You know, I guess it kind of keeps you hungry if you keep getting there. But you know, you're obviously not going to achieve all your goals right from the get-go.”
Although he needed more than two seasons on Tour and 74 holes at Sea Island, he finally arrived at his championship crossroads, which – at least for Streb – seemed right on schedule.