Reversal of fortune on 72nd hole
RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico
Scott Brown sank a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th green Sunday for an unlikely 1-shot victory over Fabian Gomez at the Puerto Rico Open. Brown, 29, finished at 20-under-par 268 and earned his first PGA Tour victory when Gomez bogeyed the final hole.
Here are Five Things you need to know from the tournament:
1. 'Crazy happened at No. 18
Brown trailed Gomez by one shot as they reached the 72nd hole. That's when Brown's caddie, Nick Hughey, gave him a quick pep talk.
“Let’s make birdie or eagle,” he told Brown. “All you can ask for is a chance. You never know.”
Those words proved prophetic.
“I knew I had to at least make birdie,” Brown said. “I figured I'd have to make eagle, to be honest with you, the way he was playing.”
Brown said he caught a good break off the tee, and he drew “a bullet 3-iron” around a pair of palm trees. From a collection area just short of the green, Brown chipped to 4 feet.
“I was trying to keep my hands from shaking off the putter,” he said of the winning putt. “You know, I lined up and just said, ‘Knock it in.’ ”
Brown jumped out to an early lead when he sank a 40-foot eagle putt at the par-5 second hole. He stretched it to three shots, climbing to 21 under, after five holes. But when he made bogey at Nos. 8 and 9, then left his second shot in the bunker at No. 11, Brown seemed to be fading from the picture. He responded with a birdie on the next hole and played flawlessly from there.
Brown finished 148th on the 2012 PGA Tour money list during his rookie season. With limited tour status this season, he had planned to focus on the Web.com Tour, especially after consecutive top-10 finishes on that circuit. Now he has a two-year exemption on PGA Tour.
The win is a dream come true for Brown, who called himself a golf addict — “That’s what I do unless it’s duck season,” he said — and grew up in Augusta, Ga., 500 yards from Gate 6 at Augusta National.
Brown recalled his last victory was at an eGolf Tour event in 2009.
“You don’t know if you’re ever going to win again,” he said. “I just tried to keep myself near the lead all day just in case something crazy happens.”
And he was there to accept the trophy when it did.
2. Gomez melts down at No. 18
Fabian Gomez let victory slip through his hands. He held a one-shot lead at 20 under, ahead of playing partner Brown, as they approached the final tee. Jordan Spieth, who was the clubhouse leader at 19 under, heard that Gomez had hit a good drive and figured the chances of Gomez making a bogey were slim.
“That ain’t happening,” Spieth said as he walked off to sign a few autographs.
But Gomez ran into trouble after his second shot hopped through a bunker about 50 yards short of the green. From a precarious lie, Gomez's pitch flew past the back pin placement and trickled into the back bunker. He scooped it 12 feet past the hole. Gomez started walking after his par putt as soon as he hit, knowing it never had a chance.
“On that final hole, I hit a good drive off the tee but followed that with a poor 3-iron and it cost me big,” he said. “I had a very bad lie there and it was a difficult shot, and I was unable to pull it off.
“But that's golf. You never know what may happen. I had to make birdie, for sure, at the last because I knew (Brown) was going to make birdie, as well. I only needed to hit the middle of the fairway with that 3-iron, and I would be safe.”
The Argentine was attempting to become the first international winner on the PGA Tour this season, as well as the first from his country to win on tour since Angel Cabrera at the 2009 Masters.
Gomez, who carded a 1-under 71, regained the lead with a birdie at the par-5 15th hole. But he conceded the pressure of trying to win for the first time on tour got to him. He took little consolation in recording his best finish on tour.
“A runner-up finish counts, but, obviously, I wanted to win,” he said. “Next time I get in this position, it will be different, for sure.”
3. Spieth's gamble pays off
A week ago, Spieth sat in the men’s grill at Country Club de Bogota in Colombia and tried to decide whether to use a sponsor invitation into the Puerto Rico Open or try to wrap up exempt status on the Web.com Tour. At the time, his only status was with his airline provider.
The 19-year-old Spieth said it was “50-50,” where to play and “that a lot of people thought I made the wrong decision coming to Puerto Rico.”
It turned out quite well for him. Spieth shot a final-round 5-under 67 and finished one shot shy of a playoff. His tie for second was a career-best finish.
Spieth played aggressively, making birdie on five of his first 10 holes. Before the round, he and caddie Michael Greller targeted 20 under as the winning score.
“So I told him after each hole let me know how many I need left,” Spieth said.
It turned out he needed one more. Spieth said he found out he had a share of the lead at 19 under while playing the 14th hole. He will likely look back at his failure to get up and down for birdie at the par-5, 15th hole. His lob wedge from a fluffy lie stopped quickly, 10 feet short; he lipped out the birdie putt.
As he waited on the next tee, Spieth slapped his right thigh, still disappointed. Then his 6-iron came up short in the front, left greenside bunker and he made bogey to drop back to 18 under. He made it interesting, clutching his fist after birdie at the last, but after seeing Brown chip within 4 feet of the hole, he knew his chances of a playoff were over.
“It was cool to battle on the back nine there and know that I was close in the heat and feel the pressure,” he said. “First-time experience for me.”
Spieth earned a spot in the next PGA Tour stop, the Tampa Bay Championship, and likely clinched enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for a spot in the Web.com Tour finals. Not a bad consolation prize for a freshly minted tour pro playing without status on any professional circuit.
4. Uihlein gets into Tampa
Peter Uihlein can cancel his reservation to Delhi, India, for the Avantha Masters on the European Tour. He shot a final-round 5-under 67 to finish tied for sixth and earn a berth in the Tampa Bay Championship on the PGA Tour.
Uihlein went out in 31 and made a pair of 30-foot birdie putts on the par-3 holes (Nos. 6 and 8). All of a sudden, Uihlein was in contention. But a bogey at the par-3 11th and par-4 14th left him in danger of dropping out of the top 10. He took care of business at the last by holing a 14-foot eagle putt for his best result on the PGA Tour.
Now, he can book a flight to Florida and play an Innisbrook course he's familiar with from American Junior Golf Association events and where he made the cut in 2011 as an amateur.
“It’s one of my favorite golf courses,” Uihlein said.
5. Short shots
• Justin Bolli was one of eight golfers to shoot 66, the lowest final-round score. Bolli, tied for fourth, recorded his best career finish on the PGA Tour.
• Monday qualifier Jon Curran made his first cut on the tour and finished tied for 24th. Boo Weekley (tied for eighth) not only made his fifth straight cut but recorded his first top-10 finish of 2013.
• Winner Scott Brown ranked first in putting with 109 putts.