Tiger Woods, center, receives the trophy from Rob Forsyth, AT&T Mobility vice president and general manager, after winning the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club on Sunday in Bethesda, Md. The win, Woods’ third of the year, now puts him in the Fedex Cup lead.
Daley finally breaks through, wins first pro title at Champions Tour major
PITTSBURGH — Flanked by major champions and pursued by big names, Joe Daley stuck to his game.
Twenty years after quitting his job as a credit salesman to turn pro, Daley wasn’t going to back down.
Not with his first victory on the PGA or Champions tours within reach. Not even with Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Lehman among those looming.
Daley won the Senior Players Championship on Sunday for his first Champions Tour title, closing with a 2-under 68 for a 14-under 266 total and a two-stroke victory over Lehman at Fox Chapel.
Daley outdueled final-round playing partners Calcavecchia — the winner the previous week in the Montreal Championships — and Couples, the defending champion. Daley entered the day tied with Calcavecchia and a shot ahead of Couples and Lehman, who won the previous major last month.
“I was my competition — not them,” Daley said. I’m my own competition. Have been for years.”
After he won, Daley wore the same grin he had throughout much of a weekend in which he was always near the top of the leaderboard but never the center of attention.
The 51-year-old Daley became slightly choked up on the 18th green after capping his victory with a 20-foot putt for his tournament-high 24th birdie.
Daley shook his head disbelievingly sand said, “Wow” four times before four questions were asked in his media conference.
“All I was keying on was what I had next, with the best possible attitude and keeping my emotions under control,” Daley said. “I had a little adrenaline going later in the round and I dealt with it pretty good, so here I am.”
The victory earned Daley full Champions Tour status for a calendar year.
Before this weekend, Daley was perhaps best known for missing out on a PGA Tour card in 2000 when a short putt popped out of the hole during Q-School.
Daley earned $405,000, more than double the $155,537 he made in 59 PGA Tour starts spread out over six seasons between 1994-2007. He had a tour card only in 1996 and ’98, with only one top-10 finish — a tie for sixth in the 1996 B.C. Open.
Daley was a two-time winner on the Web.com Tour but had only one top-10 finish in 10 previous Champions Tour starts.
Daley hit 43 of 56 fairways to tie for third in the tournament and had only four three-putts all tournament, none in the final round.
“I thought he might get a little shaky in the back, but he was solid. …” Calcavecchia said. “He deserves it. He’s been at this a long time, and this is a huge win for him.”
Lehman finished with a 69. He was trying to win his second straight Champions Tour major after taking the Regions Traditions in his previous start.
Playing in the 90-plus-degree heat, Lehman bogeyed three of the final six holes.
“Just a little bit off all day today,” Lehman said. “I didn’t play badly; I didn’t play great. With the conditions the way they were, being a little bit off was enough.”
With the greens having baked all week under the heat wave, putting became increasingly difficult. Lehman compared the conditions of firmness and speeds of Sunday’s greens to that of a U.S. Open.
Scoring was up more than a stroke and a half per round compared to Saturday, when it was a tournament-low 69.5.
Nowhere was that more apparent than among the final three groups. The nine players were a combined 5-over. Only Perry matched Daley’s 68.
Olin Browne was finished at 11 under after a 65. Calcavecchia had a 72 to match Couples at 10 under.
Couples, fighting chronic back problems all weekend, bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16 to drop out of contention. He wasn’t the same after a second-round 63, shooting 1 over the final two days. His back stiff, Couples was stretching and moving gingerly throughout the tournament, finishing with a 71.
Calcavecchia played the worst of the players in contention Sunday. He did not have a birdie until the back nine.
Jeff Freeman briefly pulled within one of the lead with an eagle at No. 2, but finished with a 74 and ended up 11th at 6 under.
Daley’s best finish in 10 previous Champions Tour events was a tie for fourth in the Senior PGA in May. The $405,000 check figures to go a long way toward earning a full tour exemption next season as a top-30 finisher on the money list. Daley also is exempt for next season’s Players Championship.
Daley was at least 2 under during all four rounds, gradually working his way up the leaderboard by the end of each round. Daley was two shots off the lead at the end of the first round, one shot back behind Couples after the second and tied with Calcavecchia after shooting a 68 on Saturday.
Daley took sole possession of the lead with a birdie on the 483-yard par-5 second hole, pulling ahead of Calcavecchia and Lehman. Daley also birdied No. 9.
“I know him enough to know he’s a hard worker, he’s very committed and willing to pay the price,” Lehman said about Daley. “I look at a guy like him and say, ‘Well deserved.’”
BETHESDA, Md. — The flight of his shot into the 18th green was so pure that Tiger Woods immediately started walking and twirled his club, knowing that it effectively wrapped up another win at the AT&T National. Making it even more special was the sound of thousands of fans at Congressional to see it.
One day after spectators were kept away from the golf course because of debris from a violent wind storm, they returned Sunday in full force and got what they expected — Woods in his red shirt, outlasting Bo Van Pelt in a back-nine duel, and posing with another trophy.
“Yesterday was a silent day,” Woods said. “I think everyone saved up for today. What an atmosphere to play in front of.”
Woods closed with a 2-under 69 — at one point going 41 holes without a bogey on a Congressional course that was tougher than when it held the U.S. Open last year — and won for the third time this year. It was the 74th win of his career, moving him past Jack Nicklaus into second place on the PGA Tour, eight short of Sam Snead’s record.
Not bad for a guy who only five months ago walked off the course at Doral with another injury to his left Achilles tendon.
“I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again,” Woods said.
He stayed at No. 4 in the world, but a couple of other rankings indicate how he is trending. Woods moved to the top of the PGA Tour money list and the FedEx Cup standings for the first time since September 2009.
And this win puts him in a position to reclaim No. 1 over the final two majors of the year. The ranking is based on points over two years. If it were a vote, Van Pelt knows how he would cast his ballot.
“I think he’s the only guy to win three tournaments on tour this year, is that correct?” he said. “On three different golf courses. And he was leading the U.S. Open after two days. So I’d say that he’s playing the best golf in the world right now.”
Van Pelt made him work for it.
Three times, Woods took the outright lead in the final round. Each time, Van Pelt made a birdie of his own to catch him. The tournament was decided on the last three holes, and it featured a surprising turn of events.
Van Pelt had Woods on the ropes on the par-5 16th by ripping a 345-yard tee shot and having only a 6-iron into the green. Woods hit a spectator in the left rough with his tee shot, laid up, and then attacked a back flag only to see the ball tumble over the green and down an 8-foot slope. It looked as if it might be a two-shot swing for Van Pelt, or at least the lead going to the 17th.
That’s when Van Pelt answered with unforced errors of his own. His 6-iron was slightly heavy and didn’t quite reach the bunker, meaning he had to plant his feet in the sand and grip the wedge on the shaft for his third shot. He moved it only a few yards, still in the collar of the rough, and chipped about 12 feet by the hole. Woods’ chip up the slope rolled 15 feet by, and he missed the par putt.
Van Pelt also missed his par putt, and they walked away from that mess still tied for the lead.
“It was difficult from the standpoint I had my legs in the bunker, and if I hit that chip a little too hard it goes over the green because you can’t put any spin on it,” Van Pelt said. “I was just trying to get the ball up in the air and play it out to the right a little bit and just got underneath it a little bit. And the second one, I thought I hit great. I was surprised it rolled that far. And the putt, I mean, I’ve probably never hit a better putt than that in my life under those kind of circumstances.
“I pretty much hit every shot the way I wanted to that hole, just ended up being 6.”
On the 17th, Van Pelt caught a flier from the first cut of rough and the ball shot over the green and near the grandstand, leaving him an impossible chip. He hit through the green and had to scramble to make bogey, and Woods took the outright lead for the third time all day — this time for good.
He made a 6-foot par putt, taking a one-shot lead to the 18th, and played it to perfection.
Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, didn’t make birdie and closed with a 77.
Adam Scott went out in 31 and was briefly tied for the lead until a few bogeys on the back nine. He had to settle for a 67, which put him alone in third at 5 under.
Billy Hurley, the Annapolis graduate who spent five years in the Navy, closed with a 72 and tied for fourth along with Robert Garrigus (70), Jhonattan Vegas (71) and Seung-yul Noh of South Korea, who had a 73.
Woods has three wins, all of them in a different manner.
He pulled away early at Bay Hill and played efficiently for a five-shot win; he rallied from four shots behind with an incredible chip-in late in the round and won the Memorial. This was a two-man duel he hasn’t experienced in America since he was on the losing end to Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship.
One day after spectators were kept out of Congressional because of toppled trees and hundreds of limbs scattered about the course, they were as loud as ever. The marshals were back to work, collecting a half-dozen cell phones from fans who were caught taking pictures.
Woods complained of a camera on his tee shot on the 16th, and having to back off his tee shot on the 17th because of another camera. That didn’t happen on Saturday. But he loved what he called the pent-up energy of the crowd, and couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if there had been no spectators when the trophy was handed out.
“As long as I won, I would be OK,” he said.
Scott, who overslept Thursday morning and made it to the tee with only minutes to spare, ran off four straight birdies late on the front nine to reach 6 under. But after making three tough par saves on the back nine, he ran out of luck. Back-to-back bogeys took him out of the game.
“The story of my year. I need to try and play well for four days,” said Scott, who opened with a 75. “You can ‘if’ and ‘but’ and you can argue, but my 3 over through three was due to my very brief warm-up on Thursday, and that might end up being the difference between winning and not this week. I only have myself to blame.”
In the final hour, it was clear this would come down to Woods and Van Pelt — one player with more than 70 career wins and another guy whose only official PGA Tour win came in Milwaukee, a tournament that no longer exists.
On the golf course, they looked far more equal than their records indicate.
Woods delivered a made-for-TV shot on the 12th hole when his tee shot left and close to a tree. He couldn’t follow through without hitting the tree, and he warned the gallery that the 9-iron might snap in half. Instead, the shaft glanced off the tree and bowed at impact, while the shot sailed toward the flag and settled 30 feet away.
Van Pelt was simply efficient. He twice missed birdie putts inside 15 feet, but he kept giving himself chances.
In the end, all he made were mistakes, which rarely works against Woods.
“He’s an amazing player,” Van Pelt said. “We’ve known each other a long time, probably 20 years. He’s fun to play with. That’s why you travel 30 weeks a year, why you get up in the morning and you the sacrifices that you do, to have the opportunity to play the best player in the world in the final round with a chance to win.”