Guthrie takes final spot in Columbus playoff
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Darkness was setting in at 9:02 p.m. Monday at the Lakes Golf & Country Club and PGA Tour rookie Luke Guthrie stood over one of the biggest putts of his young life. On the third hole of a U.S. Open sectional qualifier playoff, 5 feet of grass on the 10th green stood between Guthrie and his first major championship.
Down it went. Last spot. On to Merion.
“It’s going to be special,” Guthrie said, beaming in the gloaming. “I just love the electricity of a big event. I’m excited to go there and compete.”
This playoff stuff with a major on the line is nothing new to Guthrie. Last month he survived an Open Championship playoff in Plano, Texas, that one involving four players for three spots. Still, tension set in this time. “A little hectic,” said Guthrie, considered by many to be a future star. “My nerves were jumping.”
He eliminated 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, veteran Steve Flesch and Jason Kokrak with his 5-footer. Then Weir birdied the fourth playoff hole, No. 18, from 18 feet to secure the first alternate spot. Kokrak parred and became second Columbus alternate, which last year got into the Open at Olympic Club.
The playoff began with 11 players battling for seven spots, starting at the 397-yard 10th. Doug LaBelle II (6 feet), Justin Hicks (10 feet), Ted Potter Jr. (3 feet) and Aaron Baddeley (4 feet) birdied to secure the first four spots. Then Sang-Moon Bae (10 feet) and Rory Sabbatini (5 feet) birdied the second extra hole, No. 18, to advance. Sabbatini, a six-time Tour winner, played after his clubs arrived at his hotel late at 12:15 a.m. and after he received a 4:45 a.m. wakeup call.
Australian Baddeley, who contended in the 2007 Open at Oakmont, will be going to Merion thanks to a strong finishing kick. He birdied his 32nd hole from 25 feet, eagled from 35 feet two holes later and birdied his last from six inches.
“Long day, happy ending,” he said, smiling. “I haven’t played well the last six weeks, but I knuckled down when it mattered late today.”
There were no Cinderella stories here this year, such as when Ohio club pro Dennis Miller birdied the fourth playoff hole to get the last Open spot in 2012. This time all 15 qualifiers and two alternates coming out of the qualifier at the Lakes and Brookside Golf & Country Club have PGA Tour status.
Tour veteran Charley Hoffman, coming off an 81 the day before in the final round of the Memorial, was medalist with 11-under-par 65-68–133.
“Frankly, I wasn’t sure I was going to play in the qualifier,” Hoffman said. “I didn’t know if I would show up. I had been out six of the last seven weeks. But that bad round (at Memorial) got me motivated, and Sunday night I decided I didn’t want to let that linger. I had been playing too well to not try and qualify because I feel like I am playing well enough to win the U.S. Open. It’s really satisfying to come back the way I did.”
Hoffman finished one shot ahead of former European Ryder Cup player Robert Karlsson (66-68), last month’s Open Championship qualifying medalist Josh Teater (63-71), Nicholas Thompson (68-66) and David Hearn (69-65).
Another shot back were The Players co-runner-up David Lingmerth (70-65), 47-year-old Brandt Jobe (68-67) and Brendan Steele (67-68), who played in the final group of the 2011 PGA Championship with Jason Dufner.
Teater, the Farmers Insurance co-runner-up to Tiger Woods, shot 63 in the morning at the Lakes thanks to eight consecutive birdies. He said he wasn’t sure of how many he had made in a row, just that he “knew it was a lot.” Two were on putts in the 25-30-foot range and the rest inside of 15 feet.
“I tried to act like I was playing golf with my friends at home,” Teater said.
After missing at U.S. Open qualifying an estimated dozen times, Teater will be headed to his first major championship –“a pretty big deal”– thanks to improved putting. “I expect to go and compete,” he said.
Thompson advanced despite a crazy putting lapse over eight holes, during which he had three three-putts and missed a pair of 5-footers.
Jobe, who made an 8-foot birdie putt on his last hole, is getting back in gear after missing most of the second half of last year because of a herniated disk in his neck. His game was such a mess that he said, “I couldn’t make a turn, couldn’t hit the ball. I was playing so bad at the beginning of the year I was asking myself if I was done.”
Steele qualified for his first Open after missing four consecutive Tour cuts, including when shooting 79-81 at the Memorial. He said he had been questioning whether he belonged on Tour during that slump. But he found swing and putting keys over the weekend while working with instructor Rick Smith at Muirfield Village.
“A dream come true,” he said. “As a little boy growing up and playing late at night with my parents, I used to say, ‘This putt is for the U.S. Open.’ ”
• Sean O’Hair, who lives in the Philadelphia area and dearly wanted to play at Merion, missed the playoff by two shots thanks to starting his last nine with a bogey and watery double bogey. The day before, his caddie had problems of his own at the Lakes. While he was there getting yardages, his cart rolled into a lake at the Lakes. The superintendent pulled it out.
• Australian Scott Gardiner, the only aborigine in Tour history, opened with 65 at the Lakes despite playing with a mixed bag of clubs after his set never arrived on his or a later flight Sunday. But he faded with a 74 at Brookside and missed the playoff by three strokes.
He cherry-picked clubs belonging to Lakes pro shop personnel. A TaylorMade staffer, he used a Nike driver and irons and a Ping putter. When he first called the pro shop to inquire about replacement clubs, assistant Brian Sullivan said he thought Gardiner might be joking.
Gardiner arrived about 30 minutes before his tee time and bought clothes in the pro shop as well since his suitcase didn’t arrive. He hit a few putts before teeing off but didn’t hit any practice balls.
“The thing that amazed me is how nonchalant he was,” said head professional Eddie Kline.
• Kyle Stanley missed the playoff by two shots but has a good chance to get into the Open because he’s No. 59 in the world ranking. The top 60 through this Sunday will go to Merion. “Now it’s a waiting game,” he said.
Stanley has three top-10 finishes in his last five Tour starts, including third at the Memorial. He credits his resurgence to improved putting since working this spring with Canadian instructor Ralph Bauer.