Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 8, 2011

One Bad Miss Ruins Chez Reavie’s Day

On the PGA Tour the competition is so close that a single errant shot over the course of four days can make all the difference between winning and losing. Seldom has that been more evident this season than at last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of the Tour’s four FedEx Cup Playoff events. The playoff format reduces the starting field each week, so only the top 100 in the Cup points standings were invited to tee it up at the TPC Boston course, down from 125 the previous week. With the field for the upcoming BMW Championship, the third leg of the playoffs, further reduced to the top 70 players, there was added pressure on those golfers at the lower end of the standings to play well enough to move up and keep their seasons going.

Starting the tournament in 87th place, Chez Reavie was certainly aware of the need to put together four good rounds of golf. The 29-year old had missed the cut at the previous week’s Barclays, falling eleven spots as a result. But after making just a single birdie on the front nine in Friday’s first round, Reavie found some momentum on the back. He rolled in four birdies including three over the final four holes, to offset a single bogey. His 4-under par 67 left him just two strokes off the lead. Reavie added a pair of 3-under 68’s in the second and third rounds, recording nine more birdies in the process. With 18 holes to play he was at 10-under par, two strokes behind the lead of Bubba Watson and part of a large group of players on a crowded leader board with a legitimate chance to post a victory on the tournament’s traditional Labor Day finish.

While every golfer in the field was obviously hoping for such a chance, the prospect of a win was particularly meaningful to Reavie. He earned his PGA Tour card by finishing 18th on the 2007 Nationwide Tour money list, from which the top 25 earners each year graduate to the big tour. As a rookie in 2008 he tasted immediate success when he won the Canadian Open by 3 shots. The victory gave him a two-year exemption on the Tour. But after winning more than $1.4 million in his rookie year, Reavie’s performance sagged. Over the next two seasons he recorded just one top ten finish and missed the cut in more than half of the events he entered. Knee surgery cut short his 2010 campaign, and he earned just $112,000. That left him at 204th on the money list, well outside the top 125 places that automatically keep their Tour cards for the following year.

With the exemption earned by his 2008 victory expiring, Reavie began this season playing on a major medical exemption, which allowed him thirteen events to earn enough to retain his card. While he fell short of that goal, he did manage a second place finish at the Memorial Tournament, a showing that gave him conditional status for the balance of the season. As a result he was able to play in twenty-two regular season events. He finished tied for 9th at the last of those tournaments, the Wyndham Championship. That meant a $140,000 payday, which pushed his earnings for the year just over the $1 million mark, securing his Tour card for 2012.

With his place on next year’s Tour secure, Monday’s final round was Chez Reavie’s opportunity to prove that he had come all the way back. As he had in each of the first three rounds, he started off looking like he wasn’t going to be much of a threat. Through ten holes he was two under par for the day. Meanwhile third round leader Watson was struggling and one by one other golfers moved to the top. Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Adam Scott, and world number one Luke Donald all took a turn leading the tournament. But on the back nine each ran into varying degrees of trouble, while Reavie’s putter got red-hot. He rolled in four birdies in the space of six holes, including both of the difficult back nine par-3’s and the par-4 14th hole, which played as the hardest hole on the course on Sunday. When his birdie putt at the 16th hole dropped, he was 6-under for the day, 16-under for the tournament, and two shots clear of the field.

As Reavie played the 17th hole, up ahead Simpson made a long birdie putt on the 18th to cut the lead to one. Still Reavie came to the final tee needing only a par to win the tournament, and he was about to play the easiest hole on the golf course. The 18th at the TPC Boston is a dogleg right par-5, reachable in two by almost every golfer in the field. Originally designed as a classic risk-reward hole, short enough to be reachable but with a large hazard fronting the green, the 18th has become more reward-reward as the pros have gotten longer and longer, with some now reaching the putting surface in two with nothing more than a mid-iron.

Reavie pulled his drive a bit left, his ball winding up in short rough on a side hill lie. While reaching the green in two wasn’t out of the question, he did what any pro in his position should do, and played smartly. A safe iron shot down the fairway left him with a flat lie on short grass, just 117 yards from the hole. It was a shot that a touring pro would expect land inside a five foot circle nineteen times out of twenty; just a simple wedge to the green and two putts for victory.

Except that it wasn’t. Whether it was adrenalin or just a bad swing, Reavie sent his wedge long, the ball bounding over the green and into the thick rough in front of the stands. The difficult chip back rolled well past the hole, and his putt to save par burned the edge of the cup. Having birdied three of the most difficult holes on the back nine, Reavie bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and gave Simpson the unexpected gift of a playoff. With a winning birdie on the second hole of that playoff, Webb Simpson made the most of the surprising turn of events.

There was of course plenty of good news for Chez Reavie at the Deutsche Bank. His second place finish was good for $864,000, and he leapt up the FedEx Cup points standings, all the way to 9th place. He earned not just a spot in the BMW Championship, but a tee time for the Tour Championship as well. Still, one has to hope that the young man from Wichita, who has known both the joy of quick success and the despair of extended failure on the Tour, will find his way back to the winner’s circle soon. Because until he does, somewhere in the back of his mind the scene of the simple little wedge shot that wasn’t is going to be playing on a continuous loop.

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