Stallings joins elite group with third win before 30

By Will GrayJanuary 27, 2014, 2:06 am

SAN DIEGO – Scott Stallings vividly recalls the moment when he first became interested in golf.

Watching Tiger Woods cruise to victory at the 1997 Masters, a 12-year-old Stallings was amazed by the dominant performance.

“Tiger was the one that made me want to play golf,” Stallings explained. “At that moment I quit everything, every sport I was playing and said that’s what I want to go do.”

Seventeen years and two PGA Tour victories later, Stallings, 28, emerged from a crowded leaderboard Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open to put his name next to Woods’ on the trophy that bears the trademark Torrey pine.

“Tiger’s the standard,” said Stallings, who fired a 4-under 68 to win by one shot over a quintet of players. “Having my name close to his in a great event that he’s obviously dominated is pretty awesome.”

With the scoring average finally dipping somewhat on the brutal South Course, Stallings notched seven birdies after beginning the day in a tie for sixth. His final birdie came after his approach to the par-5 18th flirted with rolling back into the greenside pond, but ultimately remained on the putting surface.

“I knew it was enough to carry,” he said. “I just didn’t realize it was going to be that close.”

Prior to that shot, however, the Sunday storyline revolved around the changing group of names near the top of the leaderboard. Ten different players held at least a share of the lead during the final round, and as many as 19 were within two shots as the leaders neared the halfway point of their round. By the time the final group reached the 15th tee, six players (including Stallings) were tied at 8 under.

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Not that any of that mattered to the eventual champ.

“I wasn’t going to look at a leaderboard,” Stallings said. “On this course, the moment you start worrying about what someone else is doing and how they’re handling themselves is the moment that this place will beat you down.”

After finding the fairway with his final tee shot, Stallings had 227 yards to the hole over water – an approach that was eerily similar to the final shot he faced last year at the Humana Challenge.

While his 6-iron at PGA West drifted left and ultimately splashed in the greenside hazard, this time his shot found its target, leading to a birdie that proved to be the difference. After the round, Stallings asserted that his collapse last year in the desert – where he squandered a five-shot lead on the final day – helped to focus him Sunday.

“I don’t think one would happen without the other,” Stallings said. “Obviously you don’t like hitting it in the water on the last hole and losing … but when you look back at it, that’s going to be something I’m going to think about every single time in that situation.”

Before Stallings was able to get both hands around the trophy, though, no shortage of players took a run at the top spot on the leaderboard.

First up was K.J. Choi, who carded the day’s low round of 66 and nearly played his way from the cut line to the winner’s circle before tying for second. Local favorite Pat Perez gave it a run, but a costly bogey at the par-3 16th ended his chances.

Next was Jason Day, still somehow in search of just his second PGA Tour win, but the Aussie was undone by a plugged lie in a bunker at the penultimate hole, and his lengthy eagle try at No. 18 slid just past.

The player who appeared poised to claim the title for much of the afternoon was not Stallings, but rather Gary Woodland, whose length off the tee proved an asset all week. Though he stayed in contention with a string of up-and-downs on the back nine, his title run came to a crashing halt at No. 17, where a drive into the hazard lining the fairway led to a double bogey.

“I tried to hit it down the right side and I just pulled it. Got a little greedy probably,” explained Woodland, who held the 54-hole lead but ultimately finished T-10. “It was just a bad golf swing.”

The last man standing, then, was Marc Leishman, who had hopes of claiming his second Tour win on Australia Day. Needing to hole his wedge approach for eagle at the final hole, he watched as the ball spun back toward the target but ultimately settled a few feet away.

“I thought it had a pretty good chance,” said Leishman, whose runner-up showing was his second such result at Torrey Pines since 2010. “It was always a fraction left, but I was hoping I had misread it.”

Having dodged that final bullet, Stallings became the sixth player under the age of 30 with three or more PGA Tour wins to his credit, joining Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Anthony Kim.

“You don’t get very many opportunities to win golf tournaments on this Tour, and I’ve been fortunate to come out ahead three times,” said Stallings, who last won at the 2012 Sanderson Farms Championship. “As a player, all you ever want is chances.”

As a result of Sunday’s triumph he’ll head back to the Masters this spring for the second time in his career. The prospect of teeing it up again at Augusta National brought a smile to his face as he recalled the performance that first drew him to the game.

“Just like pure domination,” he said of Woods’ Masters triumph in 1997. “He was going to beat them so bad they were going to end up having to like it.”

While his performance Sunday lacked the dominance Woods has often displayed, the end result was the same. Stallings made the most of his chance, fending off myriad challengers, and now will head home once more with trophy in hand.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.