Sweet Success for Sauers in Canada
'It's a dream come true,' said Sauers, whose 13-year, seventh-month span between wins ranks as the third longest in PGA Tour history. 'I've been hitting the ball really well the last couple of months. I was hoping for this opportunity to come up.'
The 40-year-old Sauers, who hasn't been fully exempt on the PGA Tour since 1996, earned the winner's check worth $630,000 -- nearly $200,000 more than he made in 1992, his previous best season money-wise.
But the native of Savannah, Ga., said the big key was gaining a two-year exemption on tour.
'Six rounds of torture,' Sauers said of PGA Tour Qualifying School he'll get to bypass this fall. 'That is a big monkey off my back.'
Sauers secured the title by converting a tricky two-putt par at the 18th hole and finished at 15-under 269.
Steve Lowery, who missed an eight-foot birdie attempt at 18 that would have forced the first playoff in the seven-year history of the event, closed with a 3-under 68 for a 72-hole total of 14-under-par 270. The second-place finish was his third in his last six events.
'I didn't lose the golf tournament. I played all the way to the end,' said Lowery, who was also the Air Canada runner-up last year. 'I tried to hit some aggressive shots coming in. I just couldn't quite get the putts to go in.'
Sauers began the final round with a one-stroke lead at 13-under. He remained at that number with six pars in a row out of the gate before pushing two shots ahead with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 seventh.
Another four pars -- including a clutch 15-foot save at the ninth -- left Sauers at 14-under. Then Lowery, who was two back at the start and fell even further off the pace with a bogey at the second hole, tallied his fourth birdie in six holes at the par-5 12th to match Sauers atop the leaderboard.
Sauers, playing in the group behind Lowery, regained the lead with an eight-foot birdie putt when he came through the 12th. Lowery drew even again thanks to a 12-footer for birdie at the 14th, but he gave the stroke back at the par-3 16th when his bunker shot skipped across the green and he failed to get up and down to save par.
Steady Sauers finished the same way he started, with six straight pars. He made only two bogeys all week, tied for first in fairways hit (11 of 14 each day) and was ranked No. 1 in putting with an average of 26 putts per round.
'Obviously I'm happy for Gene,' said Lowery, who has collected over $1 million in his last four starts. 'He's been a good player. He had a dry spell and now he is back, so you have to be happy for him.'
Sauers, who was playing in his only his fourth PGA Tour event of the season and just his sixth in the last two years, didn't have the benefit of a practice round at Northview, a course he played once before when he tied for 51st at the 1997 Greater Vancouver Open.
The seventh alternate coming into this week, Sauers didn't learn he was in the field until Monday. He flew in from Georgia on Tuesday, but would be without his clubs until the following afternoon due to a luggage mix-up.
Sauers captured his first PGA Tour title at the 1986 Bank of Boston Classic, where he defeated Blaine McCallister in a three-hole playoff. He won the 1989 Hawaiian Open by one stroke over David Ogrin, then a year later posted an unofficial victory at the Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic.
In recent years Sauers played on the Buy.Com Tour, winning the South Carolina Classic in 1998. His win this week came on the heels of back-to-back top-10 finishes on the Buy.Com Tour in August, while his last top-10 on the PGA Tour came at the 1997 Texas Open.
Vijay Singh, the highest ranked player in the field this week at No. 9 in the world, made six birdies and no bogeys in a 65. He shared third place at 271 with second-round leader Craig Barlow (68) and Australian Robert Allenby (70).
Tom Scherrer matched the low round of the day with a 65 to finish alone in sixth at 12-under 272. It was his first top-10 on tour since he finished fourth at the 2000 Michelob Championship.
Peter Lonard, just one shot out of the lead with fellow Aussie Allenby when the day began, stumbled from the start with a double-bogey at the second hole and bogeys at the third and fifth. Three birdies on the back nine helped him to a 1-over 72 and a tie for seventh at 11-under with David Gossett (68), who double-bogeyed the final hole after he hit his approach into the water.
Rounding out a trio of Australians in the top-10 was John Senden, who climbed to 12-under with a 32 on the front nine followed by three consecutive birdies on the back. But like Gossett, he rinsed his second shot in the water at the 430-yard, par-4 home hole and closed with a double-bogey.
Senden, who still managed a 5-under 66, tied for ninth with Harrison Frazar (66) and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke (69) at minus 10.
Final results from the Air Canada Championship
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.