2005: PGA - Clarke’s collapse leaves Lonard a winner
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Peter Lonard sipped champagne after a final-round 75. Darren Clarke was left looking for a beverage of his own.
“Anybody got a beer?” Clarke asked before taking questions about his final-round collapse April 17 at the MCI Heritage – a 5-over-par 76 that included four bogeys and three double bogeys, all in the final 13 holes.
After making birdies on four of his first five holes to reach 14 under for the tournament and take a four-shot lead, Clarke went 9 over the rest of the way at Harbour Town Golf Links – including a double on No. 18 – to hand Lonard his first PGA Tour title.
“I can’t believe I’ve done what I’ve done,” said Clarke, who tied for second with Davis Love III (71), Jim Furyk (69) and Billy Andrade (68) at 5-under 279. Andrade’s round was the low score of the day on a short-but-tight Harbour Town layout that showed it still has plenty of teeth.
“Things happen out here that you don’t think are going to happen,” Clarke said. “I didn’t think I was going to shoot whatever I shot today.”
Lonard could barely believe it, either.
“Obviously, I didn’t win it the way I wanted to win it today,” said Lonard, whose 75 was the highest final round by an MCI winner, surpassing Arnold Palmer’s 74 in the inaugural event in 1969. “But at the end of the day, if you win, you win. That’s what I’m going to take out of it.”
The Australian, who finished at 7-under 277, had a somewhat schizophrenic week himself. After opening with a 9-under 62 that was one shot shy of the tournament record, he went 2 over the rest of the way with rounds of 74-66-75.
Lonard’s victory came after he switched to a short putter and a claw grip following a poor performance on the greens at the Masters.
At his caddie’s urging, Lonard went home to Orlando, Fla., after Augusta, and grabbed a short putter he had “been fiddling with” for more than a year. He putted about four hours with it on the putting green Wednesday, then put it in play Thursday and sank 11 birdie putts – three longer than 15 feet – in his first-round 62.
After taking only 80 putts the first three rounds, Lonard’s switch caught up with him Sunday, when he needed 32 putts. For the week, Lonard tied for 37th in putting with 112.
Still, thanks to Clarke’s collapse, Lonard, 37, became the first Australian to win at Harbour Town since Greg Norman in 1988.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Lonard said of his victory.
It’s something Clarke likely won’t be able to put out of his mind, either.
Looking for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2003 WGC-NEC Invitational, Clarke led by six through 36 holes after opening with back-to-back 65s, then shot 2-over 73 Saturday to enter the final round trailing Lonard by one. But the Northern Ireland native poured in birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 Sunday and threatened to run away from Lonard, who made bogeys on the first two holes.
However, Clarke’s troubles began with bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7, followed by a double bogey at No. 8, where he drove into a pond on the left side of the fairway. Suddenly, he trailed by one.
Then, just when it appeared Clarke had steadied himself with three consecutive pars and a birdie on No. 12, which gave him a two-stroke lead, his swing disappeared again. He landed his approach on the par-4 13th in a bunker that surrounds the front of the green, then hit architect Pete Dye’s infamous planks on his third shot en route to a double-bogey 6.
On the next hole, the par-3 14th, Clarke’s tee shot was left and long, then he sent his approach scurrying past the cup and toward the pond that surrounds the right side of the green. However, his ball somehow stuck on the last split in a wooden railroad tie and he managed to save bogey. Clarke followed with another bogey on the par-5 15th.
Lonard, meanwhile, wasn’t faring much better, making bogeys on Nos. 9, 12 and 14, then another on the par-3 17th that dropped him into a tie with Clarke going to the last hole.
“We were just hanging on for our lives,” admitted Lonard.
Both players hit the fairway on the final hole, but after Lonard hit the center of his green with his approach, Clarke’s misery continued when he took aim at the flag and pulled his 8-iron into the marsh grass left of the green. The players, their caddies and tournament officials searched for the ball in vain, and Clarke finally had to trudge back to the fairway to rehit his ball and finish his double bogey.
It was that kind of day.