NAPA, Calif. – While his coronation hit a bit of a snag down the stretch, the end result is still the same: Sang-Moon Bae is a winner again on the PGA Tour.
Beginning the day with a four-shot lead, Bae held on to win the Frys.com Open by two shots over Steven Bowditch.
After going 36 starts without so much as a top-10 finish since his maiden victory, the South Korean broke out of his slump in a big way at Silverado Resort & Spa, amassing a six-shot advantage at one point during the final round before hanging on to claim the trophy on a blustery day in wine country.
“The course wasn’t easy. The greens were so fast,” Bae said. “I know how well I did this week. I hit the ball really solid and (I’m) swinging really good, so I’m very happy and still excited.”
Halfway through the final round, the 28-year-old appeared to be on cruise control. After a birdie on the par-5 ninth hole, he made the turn in 1 under, stretching his lead from four shots to five. That advantage grew to six after 12 holes before Bae began to leak a little oil – a result that he attributed to checking the standings.
“I didn’t want to look at the scoreboard, but I did. I looked a lot,” he said. “That’s why I made a lot of bogeys on the back nine.”
Those bogeys began with a short miss on the par-3 11th, then Bae hit errant drives on Nos. 13 and 14 that led to two more bogeys. What had appeared to be an easy stroll to the winner’s circle turned into anything but, as his lead quickly shrank to two shots heading into the final four holes at Silverado.
“I think I was a little nervous, (lost) a little focus, too,” he said. “I don’t know why.”
After a par on No. 15, the turning point of Bae’s round came at No. 16 for the second straight day. As he did in the third round, Bae got up and down to save par, which maintained his two-shot advantage and allowed him to secure the win with two closing pars.
“I think it was the hardest chip shot today,” Bae said of the shot from behind the green that he played to three feet. “If I made bogey (on) that hole, I think I lose focus (on the) next hole.”
The win moves Bae into select company with K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang as the only Korean-born players to win multiple times on the PGA Tour. It’s a rapid turnaround for a player who two months ago needed a T-14 finish at the Wyndham Championship to sneak into the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Bae didn’t think a win was on the horizon when he set foot onto the course this week, having missed the cut in his most recent competitive start at The Barclays nearly two months ago.
“My goal was top 10,” he said.
Bae led the field this week in strokes gained tee to green, and he finished fourth among the field in proximity to the hole. Despite the bobble down the stretch, Bae’s overall performance at Silverado made him a deserved winner, and it was one that Retief Goosen saw coming after playing with Bae for the first two rounds.
“He hit the ball very well, and his putter was red hot,” said Goosen, who tied for third. “I knew he was going to be tough to catch this weekend the way he was striking it. He’s not really going to make many mistakes.”
Bae’s win also puts him into the early mix for a spot on the International squad at the Presidents Cup, as the event heads to South Korea for the first time in October 2015.
“I think it’s important to me because it’s in Korea next year. It really means a lot,” said Bae, who added that a spot in the 2016 Olympics remains another goal. “There’s a lot of good golfers in Korea, but I’m really working hard. I really want to play Presidents Cup next year.”
While his maiden win at the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship failed to serve as a launching pad to bigger and better things, Bae believes that his game was still solid last season – the results were simply lacking.
With that game once again carrying him to the winner’s circle, he insists this victory will serve as the building block that many expected after his win at TPC Four Seasons – even if he had to work a little harder than expected.
“The first one was hard, but the second one was more difficult,” he said. “But now that I’ve got the second one, I think third and fourth will come easy since I have the confidence.”