Guess we underestimated things once again. Kemper Lakes played more than 7,200 yards long and barely gave up an inch. Check that, the rough was about an inch or two shorter than tournament organizers would have liked. But drought control is something that isn't easily fixed. Still, one slight mishap was a potential precursor for disaster at what was arguably the toughest course the Buy.Com Tour has ever seen.
Marco Dawson was the only man to reach double-digits under par when it was all said and done. His 12-under-par total was good enough for a three-shot victory over Knoxville Open winner Darron Stiles. The win was a first in a career that began in the mid-1980s and has spanned more than a few tours of duty.
Dawson was the only player in the final group on Sunday to shoot under par. His 69 was impressive, to say the least, because of his birdies, but also because of his pars.
Nothing was more amazing than his par at the 11th hole. A drive in the trees nearly forced him to take an 'unplayable.' Instead he punched his ball out a few yards. Then he punched it a few more into the fairway, where he promptly got it up and down with a mid-iron and a putt that never left sight of the hole. The par kept him a shot ahead of the field, which he quickly added to at the 13th and 14th holes. Birdies on each gave him a cushion heading to the final three holes that had affectionately been dubbed the 'Bermuda triangle' by fellow pro Ryan Howison during his stint with us as an on-course commentator during the week.
Dawson made bogey at the difficult 16th, but hit a terrific tee-shot at the par-3 17th over water to a back-left 'sucker pin.' Unbelievable in our eyes. But then again, Dawson isn't the top-ranked ball-striker on the Buy.Com Tour for nothing. He made par at 17 and cruised home with a par at the last for a three-shot win.
Dawson tried to get us to believe that he wasn't thinking about victory after Saturday's third round. But he let the tongue slip a bit in his victory speech with Jerry Foltz when he admitted to a Saturday night haircut from his wife and a bunch of thoughts creeping in along the way in Round 4 about what he might say if he won.
Forgive Dawson for looking ahead. He deserves the break. This is a guy who looks the part of a superhero, tends to get a bit emotional but never loses touch with the soft-heart that makes him such a likeable guy. He's spent the better part of seven years on the PGA Tour, but has always struggled a bit to hang with the world's best. He's fought injuries and confidence as well along the way.
In fact, three years ago he played some of the best golf the Buy.Com Tour has seen en route to a spot in the top 15. He lost a playoff at the Tour Championship that year to Bob Heintz, but appeared well on his way to success at the next level. Then his back saddled him and forced him into surgery, thus taking away any momentum he'd built up for another run at the PGA Tour.
Now, thanks to his first ever victory, Dawson, who played collegiately at Florida Southern with the likes of Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate, has all but locked up another chance to get back on the big tour and hang out with his college buddies once again.
Ball-striking can take you a long way in this game. It took Marco into the winner's circle Sunday in suburban Chicago. And now he may just be ready to parlay a week's worth of happiness in the Windy City into a permanent spot on the PGA Tour for year's to come.
Way to go Marco! And just so you know, it's OK to think ahead this time.
Full coverage of the LaSalle Bank Open
TT postscript: This 65 better than Aronimink 62
ATLANTA – The start wasn’t much to look at, but that finish was something else. Tiger Woods eagled the final hole on Thursday and shares the 18-hole lead at the Tour Championship. Here are the things you know you want to know:
• First of all, let’s give a pat on the back to the man who most deserves it today: Me. Early this morning, I sent this tweet:
Less than an hour until tee time. Gotta good feeling about this week. Let’s set the O/U today at 66.5 on the par 70. And then take the under.— Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) September 20, 2018
Never doubt my good feelings. Ben Crenshaw doesn’t have my good feelings. We may have 54 holes to play, but I gotta good feeling we’re going to be changing that Tiger Tracker avatar Sunday night.
• Now onto Tiger. After all, he did hit 10 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens in regulation and took 28 putts. It wasn’t looking good early when he had nine putts through four holes and was 1 over par. But he birdied Nos. 5 and 6, turned in 1 under, and really turned it on down the stretch with two birdies and an eagle over his final seven holes. And if you take a good look at the scorecard below you’ll notice he didn’t make a bogey after the first hole.
• How good is a 65 at East Lake? Better than his opening 62 at Aronimink, according to Woods: “This was by far better than the 62 at Aronimink. Conditions were soft there. This is – it's hard to get the ball closer. There's so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can't get the ball close.”
Woods added that you had to play “conservatively” and be patient – take what the course allowed. Tiger missed five putts – four of them for birdie – inside 15 feet. But in the 93-degree heat, he kept his composure and made putts of 26 and 28 feet for birdie, and 28 feet for eagle.
• This week feels different. It feels like Tiger is really ready to win again. He seems very serious, very focused. He talked about “getting the W” on Wednesday and said on Thursday, “[T]he objective is to always win.”
After shooting 65, Woods signed a few autographs and eventually made his way to the putting green. If he gets those 15-footer to fall, we’re going to be two wins away from tying Sammy.
• So, what about that eagle on 18, you ask? Tiger said he “hammered” a driver – which was listed at 320 yards – and then hit a 5-wood from 256 yards to 28 feet. As for the putt: “It took forever for that putt to start breaking, grain coming down off the left. But once it snagged it, it was going straight right.”
Right into the cup. Right into the lead. Our man is making history this week.
Watch: Highlights from Tiger's first round at East Lake
Tiger Woods is back at the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013, and he provided the fans in Atlanta with some highlights on the first day of competition.
Still looking for his first win of the year after coming close on numerous occasions, Woods started the day off by splitting the fairway on the first hole with the driver, not even bothering to watch his ball land.
Despite the picture-perfect opening tee shot, Woods would go on to bogey the first hole, but he rebounded with back-to-back birdies on 5 and 6, making putts from 26 and 15 feet.
Tiger's best shot on the front nine came on the par-4 seventh hole after he found the pine straw behind a tree with his drive. The 14-time major champ punched one under the tree limbs and onto the green, then calmly two-putted for par from about 40 feet en route to a front-side 1-under 34.
Woods added two more birdies on the par-4 12th and 14th holes, rolling in putts of 3 feet and 7 feet after a couple of great looking approach shots.
Woods finished his round with a vintage eagle on the par-5 18th hole, finding the green with a 5-wood from 256 yards out and then sinking the 28-foot putt.
Co-leader. pic.twitter.com/MMUZ8zptQ9— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 20, 2018
The eagle at the last gave Woods a share of the early first-round lead with Rickie Fowler at 5-under 65.
Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship
Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.
Tweets by GCTigerTracker
Garcia (66) peaking for Ryder Cup?
Sergio Garcia might be finding his form just in time to terrorize the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Garcia made seven birdies during an opening round of 5-under 66 to sit just two shots off the early lead at the European Tour’s Portugal Masters.
It was Garcia’s fifth consecutive round of par or better, a stretch that includes rounds of 66-65-67-70-66. That solid play at the Wyndham Championship wasn’t enough to extend his PGA Tour season – he didn’t qualify for the FedExCup playoffs – but the Spaniard is starting to round into form with the Ryder Cup on deck.
A few weeks ago he was a controversial selection by European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn. After missing the cut in all four majors, Garcia could have been left at home in favor of such players as Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Wallace (a three-time winner this season who, once again, is at the top of the leaderboard in Portugal), Matt Fitzpatrick or Thomas Pieters. But Bjorn tabbed Garcia, noting his Ryder Cup experience, his sterling foursomes record and his influence in the team room. If Phil Mickelson is the U.S. player under the most pressure to perform in Paris, all eyes will be on Garcia next week – especially since it could be one of his final opportunities to wear a European uniform, as he’ll be 40 for the 2020 matches.
Garcia’s 66 matched his lowest opening round of the year and puts him in position to secure just his second top-10 since March.