Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 3, 2013

Many Stories But Just One Winner At The Deutsche Bank

A NOTE TO READERS: As previously advised, On Sports and Life spent two long days watching PGA Tour golf and dodging thunderstorms on Sunday and Monday. Blame New England weather for this post being delayed.

This year’s tournament marked the beginning of the second decade for the Deutsche Bank Championship, the PGA Tour’s annual stop in the Boston suburbs. The tournament’s signature feature is its Monday finish, made possible by its scheduled spot on Labor Day weekend. As befits such a special occasion, the four days of play offered up any number of interesting stories for the thousands of New England golf fans who made their way to the expansive TPC Boston layout.

Unfortunately for all those fans, especially since I was one of them, the weather did its best to hog the headlines on both Sunday and Monday. I left Portsmouth under partly cloudy skies early Sunday morning, but by the time I reached Woburn, a suburb just north of Boston, the day had turned dark and threatening. That’s where I met my old friend, who had fortunately been listening to traffic reports while he drove down from central New Hampshire.

“I think we can get there if we go through the city,” Don said as he got in my car. Since I had been listening to a new CD during the drive, I was unaware that an extraordinarily severe storm cell was wreaking havoc just southwest of us, flooding and shutting down the Route 128 circumferential highway around Boston that would have been our normal route to the tournament. Thanks to Don’s choice of audio entertainment, we instead took an alternate route, heading due south on the Interstate that runs right through downtown Boston, then out the Southeast Expressway to eventually rejoin Route 128 below the trouble zone. The rerouting got us to the tournament parking area in plenty of time to sit in the car, for play had been suspended by the heavy rain. Eventually the PGA Tour wiped out the scores on the handful of holes that seven twosomes had played before the suspension, and restarted the third round from scratch at noon, with players now going off both tees in groups of three. The final tee times were at 2 p.m., with the leaders just managing to finish in the gloaming well after 7 p.m.

The rain returned early Monday, forcing a delay in the scheduled starting times of 8 to 10 a.m. Originally announced as an hour, that delay eventually ran to 90 minutes. Then in early afternoon, with the final groups nearing the turn, the horn sounded and the electronic scoreboards lit up with warnings of a suspension in play due to an approaching storm. Spectators with access to the corporate hospitality tents headed for the bars and buffet tables, while we plebeians were left to find low-lying areas and trust that our umbrellas wouldn’t be too attractive to the electricity in the air. After a delay of nearly two hours Mother Nature finally relented and allowed the golfers to become the story once again.

Among those golfers the tournament’s start belonged to Phil Mickelson, who took the first round lead on Friday with an 8-under par score of 63, just one off the course record. But while Phil’s legion of fans continued to follow him in droves throughout the remainder of the tournament, the headlines he made on Friday would be his last ones at the Deutsche Bank. Three consecutive even par rounds of 71 followed, with the first of those in particular only made possible by Mickelson’s extraordinary scrambling ability. The leader after round one eventually finished in a tie for 41st.

By Monday, aside from the tournament winner, recently turned 20-year old Jordan Spieth was the golfer of the moment. Spieth, who turned pro just last December, began the season without any status on the PGA Tour, relying on sponsor’s exemptions to get into the field for each tournament. In July he won the John Deere Classic, becoming the first teenager in more than eight decades to win a PGA Tour event. On Monday he started the day at 8-under, playing with Mickelson and Harris English in the first threesome off of #1 once play finally began.

I caught up to them on the par-5 7th hole, where Spieth outdrove his two playing partners, and then smashed a fairway wood to within a few yards short of the green on the 600 yard hole. A chip and a putt later, Spieth had recorded one of four birdies on the front nine. A couple of hours later with his day winding down, he closed in style, making birdies on the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes before rolling home a 23-foot putt for eagle at the last. His 9-under par 62 matched the course record and sent him rocketing up the leader board. It also ensured his place in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings no matter what happens at the BMW Championship in two weeks, making Spieth the first golfer since Tiger Woods in 1996 to go from having no status on Tour at the start of the season to qualifying for the 30-player Tour Championship at season’s end.

Between Mickelson on Friday and Spieth on Monday, much of the story revolved around Sergio Garcia. With rounds of 65 and 64 the Spaniard took the lead at the halfway mark. On Sunday he played bogey-free golf on the front nine, but with only two birdies was in danger of being caught and passed by several golfers on a day when scores were low. But he added four more birdies on the back nine, and when his mid-iron second shot from 218 yards on the par-5 18th found the fringe, he was assured of retaining the lead.

In retrospect, that may not have been the best position for Sergio going into Sunday. On ten previous occasions he had teed off in a final round as the leader of a tournament, and in only three of those events did he wind up the winner. In the end, Sunday was not the fourth. Off line from the tee and missing putts from the start, Garcia closed with a 2-over par 73 to finish five shots adrift of the tournament winner. I watched on the short par-4 4th hole as he flared a tee shot so far right that it went over a wide waste area to the right of the fairway and into some deep woods beyond. Lucky to even find his ball, he managed to punch it back into play, but the eventual bogey had him on his way to another forgettable Sunday.

Instead it was another European star, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who managed to write the final story of the tournament. Starting the day two back of Garcia, the 37-year old offset an early bogey with four birdies on the front nine to seize the lead before the weather delay. Once play resumed I watched him roll in a long birdie putt on the 11th hole to move three shots clear. As the final groups made their way along the back nine and Stenson held steady, his victory began to seem inevitable. Then Steve Stricker, his closest pursuer, birdied the 17th to cut the lead to two. With eagle always a possibility at the 18th, Stricker’s putt sent a ripple through the crowd. Moments later the ripple became a murmur when Stenson’s own approach at 17 found a greenside bunker.

I had thought about following Stricker up the 18th, but instead chose to stay beside the 17th green, so I was on the rope line when Stenson finally made the Deutsche Bank his own. Laying his sand wedge wide open behind the ball, he gave a short but firm swing. Ball and sand flew into the air, with the dimpled sphere landing softly on the edge of the putting surface and rolling inexorably into the cup for a birdie three. We in the crowd roared our approval, and Henrik Stenson allowed himself a little smile. He had spent the summer coming ever so close to victory. Second at the Open Championship in July, followed by second at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, followed by third at the PGA Championship. Recent results that easily added up to the best year by any non-winner on the PGA Tour. Except that with one decisive swing from a greenside bunker at the end of a long, wet weekend outside Boston, Henrik Stenson made sure he was no longer a non-winner.

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