Sunday of Wyndham spotlights heartbreak on Tour

By Will GrayAugust 17, 2014, 11:57 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Wyndham Championship is positioned on the calendar as the ultimate lifesaver.

It’s the PGA Tour’s final get-rich-quick opportunity, the place where one week can absolve the mistakes of 10 months and where one good round can change the outlook for the following year.

In the span of a few hours Sunday, though, the field of dreams expected at Sedgefield Country Club transformed into a minefield, with casualties scattered across the fairways as players at every level of the Tour’s hierarchy suffered heartbreak after heartbreak.

While Camilo Villegas left with the trophy, a deserving champion after a final-round 63, those left in his wake exited with scars that may take months – if not years – to heal.

The player with the most to gain Sunday was Heath Slocum, though he became the one who lost the most after stumbling to the finish line. At No. 158 in the FedEx Cup standings, Slocum knew to begin the week that he needed a big result, and through 70 holes he was where he needed to be. An eagle on the par-5 15th was followed by a birdie on No. 16, and Slocum quickly emerged from a pack of contenders to join Villegas and Nick Watney atop the standings at 17 under.

But Slocum hadn’t cracked the top 10 since his win at the 2010 McGladrey Classic, and he played the final two holes like a man with something to lose. A stubbed chip on the 17th hole dropped him one shot off the pace, then he found himself 42 feet away for birdie on the final green.

What played out next required an abacus and perhaps a FedEx Cup currency conversion chart, as Slocum’s playing partner, Freddie Jacobson, was in the process of bogeying the 18th to ruin his shot at the title. When he stood over his lengthy birdie putt, Slocum’s scenarios were simple: make it to tie Villegas and head to a playoff, or two-putt for par and tie for second, locking up a spot in the playoffs and a PGA Tour card for next year.

Slocum played for the win, racing his putt 6 feet past. The par attempt never had a chance, and in the span of two holes he plummeted from co-leader to a spot in the Tour Finals.

Afterward he regretted the outcome, but not the execution.

“I mean, how many times are you going to get that situation, a chance to maybe win a golf tournament?” Slocum said. “I hit it too hard obviously, but I was trying to make sure I got it there and I hit a poor putt on the second one. … Obviously, I’m terribly disappointed.”

Slocum’s tale was one of high-stakes disappointment, but he was not the only one leaving Sedgefield wondering what-if.

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Like Slocum, Brad Fritsch had plenty to play for Sunday: his first win, his highest PGA Tour finish, and oh yeah – a card for next year.

Fritsch struggled under the pressure of a spot in the day’s final pairing, shooting an even-par 70 that left him in a tie for eighth. It means another trip to the Tour Finals for the Canadian, but after exiting the scoring trailer he had a more pressing question.

“Am I 151?” he asked.

Indeed he was, as Webb Simpson’s 72nd-hole birdie put a charge into the FedEx Cup calculators that left Fritsch at No. 151 in the final standings. While Nos. 126-150 aren’t fully exempt for next season, they do retain some conditional PGA Tour status.

Instead, Fritsch is left with no status on the main circuit as he readies for a trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., in two weeks.

“I was uncomfortable,” Fritsch said. “Didn’t have it today. Too many downhill, 35-footers that broke 4 feet, trying to get the right speed. It was tough. I just didn’t put myself in great position to make birdie putts.”

As a non-member, Jason Allred wasn’t thinking playoffs, or even FedEx Cup points. Allred’s approach was focused simply on making cash, as he began the final round in a tie for 18th and likely needed a top-14 finish to make enough money to earn his card for next year via the non-member money list.

An underdog tale that began with a T-3 finish at the Northern Trust Open and included a tie for sixth last month at Reno ended suddenly on the fourth hole Sunday, as Allred put his tee shot out of bounds on the right. He re-loaded, but yanked his next shot left.

O.B. again.

It led to a quadruple bogey, a blow from which he could not recover. Even though he eagled the following hole, Allred posted a 3-over 73 to tie for 47th and now will join Slocum and Fritsch in the fight for one of 25 cards available at the Tour Finals.

“I felt like everything was right there,” Allred said. “I’m certainly disappointed, and I’m sure I’ll be more disappointed once it sinks in a little.

“I hope so much I can learn from today, because I want to be back out here so bad. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Perhaps the day’s cruelest blow, though, was reserved for little-known Kevin Foley. A rookie who hadn’t played in a PGA Tour event before the Sony Open seven months ago, Foley entered the week at No. 208 in the FedEx Cup standings, needing to crack the top 200 to earn a return trip to Finals. He was 1 over on the day when he pulled his approach into a greenside bunker at No. 18, but his blast left just 4 feet for par.

The putt failed to drop, and Foley finished at No. 201 in the standings.

For players like Foley, the difference between Nos. 200 and 201 is especially steep. While those who just miss the top 125 receive conditional status and a chance at redemption during the four Finals events, Foley has no such consolation prize. The next time he’ll tee it up will be at the second stage of Tour Q-School, and even full-time status on the developmental circuit is now far from a sure thing.

“I felt like I did a lot of good things all week, today just wasn’t the greatest,” he said. “Just hit the putt with too much pace for that line.”

Too much pace. Not enough chances. A mis-read putt.

The area behind 18th green at Sedgefield was littered with regret, as over the course of the final round, the promise of the Wyndham turned into the heartache of what-might-have-been. 

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.

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Wise wins first Tour title at AT&T Byron Nelson

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 1:22 am

On the strength of a final-round 65, 21-year-old Aaron Wise broke through for his first PGA Tour victory Sunday, taking the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest. Here's how Wise beat the field and darkness following a lengthy rain delay:

Leaderboard: Wise (-23), Marc Leishman (-20), Branden Grace (-19), J.J. Spaun (-19), Keith Mitchell (-19)

What it means: This is Wise’s first PGA Tour win in just his 18th start as a member. Tied with Leishman to start the final round, Wise raced ahead with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch from Nos. 4-10 and never looked back. He'd make eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse and the winner's circle. The 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion just locked up Tour status through the 2019-20 season and guaranteed himself a spot in the PGA Championship.

Best of the rest: Leishman reached 20 under par but just couldn’t keep pace with Wise. This is his second runner-up of the season, following a solo second in the CJ Cup in October.

Round of the day: Grace carded a 62 – where have I heard that before? – with eight birdies, an eagle and a bogey to end up tied for third, his best finish of the season on Tour.

Biggest disappointment: Adam Scott looked as though he had done enough to qualify for the U.S. Open via the Official World Golf Ranking when he walked off the golf course. Unfortunately, minutes later, he’d drop from a four-way tie for sixth into a three-way tie for ninth, narrowly missing out on this week's OWGR cutoff.

Break of the day: Wise could very well have found the hazard off the tee at No. 9 if not for a well-placed sprinkler head. Rather than drop a shot, he took advantage of his good fortune and poured in another birdie putt to extend his lead.

Quote of the day: "It's a dream come true to win this one." - Wise