SAN DIEGO – At the end of a week dominated by accusations and consternation over square grooves generating more spin, perhaps it was only fitting that the Farmers Insurance Open came down to a wedge.
Ben Crane had a one-shot lead and stood 82 yards from the 18th hole, the traditional Sunday placement at Torrey Pines just over the water and below a ridge. Michael Sim had 88 yards, effectively the same shot, needing a birdie for hopes of a playoff.
Both used the conforming V-shaped grooves. And both shots spun too much.
The advantage went to Crane, for his ball stopped against the collar of the green allowing him to putt. He didn’t do it very well, leaving himself 30 inches of bumpy green for par to capture his first victory in more than four years. He was surprised, only because he pledged not to keep score and didn’t realize he had won until he was congratulated.
“Did I win?” Crane said to Ryuji Imada, a reaction more common on the “Price is Right” than the PGA Tour.
Sim hit what he thought was the perfect shot until it spun off the green, forcing him to chip. He missed and made par, settling for a runner-up finish along with Brandt Snedeker and Marc Leishman.
“It would have been nice to have a putt at it for birdie,” Sim said. “But it wasn’t the case.”
Crane, the only player among the top eight not to make a birdie over the final seven holes, closed with a 2-under 70 for his third career victory, ending an 0-for-98 drought and sending him to the Masters. He finished at 13-under 275 and won $954,000.
So ended an unusual week in splendid weather along the Pacific coast, even if the two lead characters were out of the picture when the trophy – a bronze of a Torrey pine – was awarded.
Scott McCarron, who accused Phil Mickelson of “cheating” for using the Ping-Eye 2 wedge (which is approved for play), missed the cut. Mickelson started the final round four shots behind, and on the first hole faced a tough chip up the slope. He pulled his Ping wedge and watched it roll 30 feet by the cup, leading to the first of three straight bogeys to take himself out of the tournament.
The great wedge debate will move up the coast to Riviera at the Northern Trust Open, where PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is to meet with players Tuesday and, if nothing else, tell them to stop the name-calling.
Plenty of drama remained at Torrey Pines for the final round.
Crane began the final round two shots out of the lead, which he erased in three holes. He stuffed a wedge (no spin on this shot) to within 3 feet on the second hole, then rammed in a 45-foot birdie on the third as Imada three-putted. Crane also birdied from 20 feet on the fifth, and built his lead to three shots with another putt over 45 feet on the 11th.
He never lost the lead – even if he never knew he had it – although he had plenty of challengers.
Robert Allenby made the first charge, continuing to show the form that has brought him four consecutive top 10s, two of those wins. He pulled within two shots after a two-putt birdie on the 13th, then ran into another issue with grooves. This time it was a 7-iron, and the more shallow shape led to a flyer that sailed the 14th green and went into a hazard.
Rattled, Allenby bogeyed the 15th, then hit a tee shot into the canyon and made triple bogey on the 17th.
In his previous tournament, Allenby was tied for the lead at the Sony Open when he caught another jumper from the rough, the ball raced through the green and he made par to lose by one.
“If you really look at it, it’s cost me two tournaments, definitely,” Allenby said. “I was in the groove and feeling ready to do it today, and it was such a shame that it happened.”
Rickie Fowler, the 21-year-old dressed like an orange popsicle, stayed in the hunt until he made double bogey on the 17th. Leishman (68) and Snedeker (69) were latecomers, with only Snedeker having a realistic chance until missing a 12-foot birdie on the last hole.
That left it to Crane and Sim.
For all the long putts Crane made, he let Sim back into the hunt my missing a 6-foot birdie on the 12th, a 4-foot par on the 13th and another par putt inside 3 feet on the 17th, courtesy of the ball setting slightly in an indentation.
That set the stage for the 18th.
Sim was some 250 yards away and chose to lay up, a smart decision. That’s the farthest he can hit a 3-wood, meaning he would have to catch it perfectly or his chances were over. Given the chilly conditions, the ball doesn’t fly quite as far.
Even that decision came with some comic relief.
CBS Sports analyst David Feherty told the booth that Sim had chose a 2-iron, which left Nick Faldo aghast that he would not be hitting a 3-wood. TV reporters get that information from the caddies, and Sim’s caddie held up two fingers – a 2-iron if he’s holding them up, a 7-iron if he’s holding them down.
Sim layed up with a 7-iron.
Then came the wedges that spun, the chip that came up short, Crane’s par putt and a victory that Crane didn’t know was his.
That put him back in the news, this time for the right reasons.
It was only seven weeks ago that a gossip magazine attributed quotes to Ben Crane saying Tiger Woods was a “phony and fake,” which Crane never said. In fact, he hadn’t given any interviews in months, and wasn’t even at the tournament where Life & Style said the interview took place. This attention was far better.
“To be in the news again? Yeah, my name keeps popping up,” Crane said. “It’s good to be (in the news) on a good note.”
Then he paused and smiled.
“And you can quote me on that.”