“It’s hard to win out here.”
Brian Gay’s simple and telling comment after winning the Humana Classic might have been spoken by any number of runners-up on Sunday. Two additional golfers joined him in a playoff and two more finished one stroke out at 24-under par.
Gay’s highly-touted putter missed a fairly short birdie effort on the 72nd hole to win in regulation, but it was up to the task in overtime. Gay and Charles Howell III birdied the first playoff hole, while Web.Com Tour graduate David Lingmerth found Lake Hope on the left and made bogey. Lingmerth had closed with a 10-under 62 to make up seven strokes and join the playoff, but was unable to duplicate his final-hole birdie on the 73rd, tugging a 4-iron approach from a slight sidehill lie into the wet stuff.
“It was quite a bit above my feet, so I knew it was probably going to want to go left,” Lingmerth said. “And I naturally like to hit a little fade, so off of that lie, it just felt awkward for me. And I didn’t get comfortable and obviously put a bad swing on it.”
Howell was the only player in the top five to make a bogey during regulation. The Oklahoma State alum made two of them, yet persevered to post 10 birdies over the other 16 holes and reserve a spot in the post-round cotillion. Much like Gay, Howell was unable to birdie the 18th in regulation for the win. Unfortunately for Howell, his approach to the second playoff hole (the 10th) found a greenside bunker. After a mediocre bunker shot, he missed his 10 footer for putt that gave Brian Gay two putts for the win.
For Howell, close may not bring the symbolic cigar, but it does substantiate his rededication to the game.
“I like the work that I’m doing,” Howell said after the round. “I’ve made more of a commitment to work on my short game. It’s up to me to stick to the plan that I’ve laid out throughout the whole year, as opposed to having a couple good weeks and then focusing a little bit more on something else.”
Kevin Chappell gave an early hint that the Humana tradition of low final rounds would continue. The former UCLA player got to eleven-under par through the 8th hole, after beginning his day on the back nine. Knowing that a final-hole birdie would take him to 60 on the day and minus-24 for the week, Chappell nearly made his long effort. A mental lapse led to a three-putt, but still earned him a top-10 finish.
“I hit a good putt,” Chappell said. “Unfortunately missed the comeback putt, but all in all, it was a good day. I said to my caddie walking up 18, this is a lot better than where I was end of last year, fighting to keep my card. It’s good to get those nerves going again and a nice way to break off the rust.”
Scott Stallings, the tournament leader at dawn on day four, gave the impression that he would follow up his Saturday 63 with another low round on Sunday. Birdies on holes Nos. 2 through 4 increased his overnight lead to six strokes. A bogey hiccup on No. 7 reduced the lead, as the hard-charging field gave notice that it would not concede victory.
Stallings opened the back nine with a pair of birdies to establish a lead once again, but was unable to make another birdie over the final six holes. Bogeys on Nos. 16 and 18 snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the 2012 True South Classic champion. Despite the near-miss, Stallings remained optimistic about the experience.
“You’re going to have your good days and your bad days, but if you live and die with every shot out there, you’re going to have a ?? your career is not going to last very long out there,” Stalling said. “You got to learn from your mistakes and know what you got to do to get better. And I’ve got a great team around me and I got to get better in certain situations and got to handle myself better and understanding where I’m going to miss it in the circumstances when they dictate themselves, like 18.”
Among the also-rans, Phil Mickelson’s final-hole bogey cost him a top-30 finish, but his third consecutive round in the 60s (67 on Friday and twin 66s on the weekend) revealed that Lefty is in top early-season form as he heads to San Diego and Torrey Pines next week. Only a Thursday 72 kept Mickelson from contending.
James Hahn, a tour rookie, had six birdies and two eagles (including one on No. 18) in a final-round 62. He finished in a 4th-place tie with Stallings, one stroke out of the playoff. Hahn had played on the Gateway, Canadian and Nationwide tours before earning a promotion to the PGA Tour in 2013. Hahn led this week after opening with 63-67. A third-round 72 derailed the train a bit, but he showed more than pluck in closing with the low round of the week.