PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Don O’Connor had never seen the venerable Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in real time, but he’d watched the TiVo’ed final round from this year’s Players Championship enough times to know he had the game to play Pete Dye’s mean masterpiece.
At 5-foot-9, O’Connor has the same type of build and game as Tim Clark, the diminutive South African who made this year’s Players his first PGA Tour title in May.
So when he arrived at TPC Sawgrass early Wednesday for the final round of the Golf Channel Am Tour’s National Championship his game plan was clichéd and simiple – play “old man par.”
Although the 47-year-old Carlsbad, Calif., resident came up short in his par quest, his closing 73 at soggy Sawgrass was enough to lift O’Connor to the Championship Flight [handicap 0-3.9] crown. He finished at 7-over 295, one stroke clear of overnight leader Chad Bailey who closed with a 76. Terry Rice finished alone in third place, four strokes back after a closing 77.
“I try to play to my strengths,” said O’Connor, who didn’t finish outside the top 10 in the nine Golf Channel Am Tour events he played in 2010. “I would be considered a grinder, for sure.”
And Clark, the Tour’s ultimate grinder, would have been proud of O’Connor’s closing turn at Sawgrass. Cruising along at 1 under par through eight holes, O’Connor’s third shot at the par-5 ninth bounced once and trickled over the back edge of the putting surface and into a bunker. Bogey.
After four consecutive pars to start the back nine O’Connor added his third bogey of the day at No. 14 and felt his title hopes slipping away. That was until he played the Stadium Course’ feared closing stretch in even par to edge the field.
“The highlight of my round was hitting it down the middle on No. 16. I had no choice but to go for (the green),” said O’Connor, who two-putted for birdie at the 16th hole.
An 8-iron to 20 feet at the feared 17th hole led to par and not even a nervy bogey at the last could deny O’Connor.
“(Winning) was in the back of my mind, but there was enough to keep my attention on that golf course,” O’Connor said.
Clark couldn’t agree more.