ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Heath Slocum values winning against anybody, anywhere, on any tour.
He was tied for the lead Sunday in the McGladrey Classic, his ball just off the back of the 16th green, 60 feet from the hole. As he circled the green to study the putt from every direction, it suddenly reminded him of another big putt he had made in his career.
Only it wasn’t the putt most people would have guessed.
The guy who a year ago made a birdie on the last hole to beat Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker at The Barclays was thinking about a putt he made nine years ago on the Nationwide Tour when he won the Greater Cleveland OpenBill Haas.
“It’s funny how you remember good shots,” Slocum said. “I guess that was a while ago, but that was one that’s forever etched in my mind, just because it was my very first win.”
Slocum won for the fourth time on the PGA Tour, and it felt just as good as the others. The field at Sea Island wasn’t nearly as strong as it was last year in a FedEx Cup playoff event. The stakes weren’t as high. And when his challengers faded on the final few holes, there wasn’t nearly as much drama.
“Every win, regardless of the field … trust me, I went out there today wanting to win just as badly as I did at The Barclays,” he said. “The only difference is the attention – the people that are there, the media. That was New Jersey, with New York right there, and this is Sea Island. But they’re both fantastic.
“Any tournament you enter, you want to win. And when you do, there’s just no other feeling like it.”
Slocum was in a three-way tie for the lead in the final hour of the inaugural tournament, having led by three shots on the front nine. First, Robert Allenby blocked his tee shot into the hazard on the 18th hole and took double bogey. Then, David Toms three-putted from just inside 15 feet on the 16th hole in the group ahead of Slocum.
Slocum suddenly had a two-shot lead, allowing him a cautious bogey on the final hole to finish at 14-under 266.
He earned $720,000, which moved him to No. 29 on the PGA Tour money list with one tournament left on his schedule. The top 30 earn invitations to the Masters.
Haas, who won last week at the Viking Classic for his second victory this year, all but locked up his return to Augusta National. He drilled an approach on the par-5 15th to 10 feet for eagle to give himself a shot at back-to-back wins. The runner-up finish was worth $432,000, which moved him to No. 18 on the money list.
Most of the players in the top 30 are not playing much this time of the year, and it’s unlikely Haas will be knocked out of the top 30.
Matt Kuchar closed with a 68, which should be enough to wrap up the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average. He has just over $4.9 million to lead the money list. If that stands, it will be the lowest amount to win the PGA Tour money title since David Duval ($2.5 million) in 1998, the year before the tour’s series of big TV contracts began.
Allenby (66), Toms (68) and Arjun Atwal (66) tied for third at 12-under 268.
Charles Howell IIIBo Van Pelt, who needed a birdie on the last hole to catch the leaders and drove into the water for double bogey. Van Pelt closed with a 66.
Joe Durant, who started one shot out of the lead, closed with an even-par 70 and tied for sixth. That still was enough to move the 46-year-old Durant from No. 131 to No. 115 on the money list with three tournaments left in the season.
PGA Tour rookie Troy Merritt was No. 123 on the list and played in the final group with Slocum. He was out of sorts from the start, however, shot 41 on the front nine and didn’t make a birdie until the 14th hole. Merritt shot a 75 and dropped three spots on the money list.
Slocum’s formula was to hit fairways and greens, then make enough putts to keep his nose in front. That worked to near perfection on the front nine when he made four birdies in a five-hole stretch, three of them from 8 feet and the longest from 12 feet.
He was three shots clear and looked to be in control when his approach cleared a mound by the bunker on the ninth hole and rolled toward the flag, only to funnel down to a deep swale behind the green. That led to his first bogey, and Slocum dropped another shot on the 12th hole when he came up well short on the par 3 and failed to get up-and-down.
Right when it looked as though his birdie chances were running out, he rolled in the biggest putt of the way, throwing his arms in the air in mild surprise and great relief.
“That’s the tournament winner,” he said. “You could three-putt just as easily, for sure more times than you’re going to make it. When that went in, that was huge. I was glad to see that go in.”