Castle Rock, Colo.
Holeouts, eagles and strings of birdies typically decide The International.
Not this year.
However, that’s not to say the tournament was totally lacking in fireworks. Rod Pampling, a former greenkeeper by way of Australia, stepped up at the 492-yard, par-5 17th hole – where stars often are born in this unique tournament – and curled in a 21-foot eagle putt from the right fringe, edging Germany’s Alex Cejka for his first PGA Tour victory.
Pampling’s eagle was worth 5 points in The International’s Stableford system (birdies are worth 2 points, pars 0, bogeys minus-1 and double bogeys and worse minus-3) and delivered his first Tour victory in his 81st start. Pampling finished with 31 points – the lowest winner’s total since the event returned to cumulative four-round scoring in 1993. Pampling’s total was two better than Cejka, three clear of 2001 champion Tom Pernice Jr. and four ahead of hard-charging Duffy Waldorf. Fifty-year-old Jay Haas (25 points) finished fifth, climbing into the top 10 in the Ryder Cup points standings.
With the winds swirling and the pins tucked, Pampling did what he could to hang close to the lead, then pounced when presented his opportunity at the penultimate hole. From 183 yards at No. 17, he ripped a shot with a 7-iron to pin-high, just off the green, then surveyed a putt he had encountered a few days earlier in a practice round, a right-to-left swinger he judged perfectly for the winning margin.
“I’ve seen it in the past where 17 was almost the decider,” Cejka said. “But everybody had a chance. We all were putting for eagles. It’s just who makes the putt. And he (Pampling) did it at the right time and he deserves it.”
Pampling, 34, closed with a par to take home the $900,000 first-place check and some momentum heading into the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Previously, he may have been best known for leading the first round of the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie – then missing the cut when he shot 86 the next day.
“I just keep myself in the present,” said Pampling, who counts an Australasian event in 1999 as his only other professional victory. “I knew I could celebrate after I had finished my job.”
Cejka, who trailed by 1 point at the start of the round, was hurt by double bogeys at Nos. 8 and 16, losing 6 points on those holes. The one that hurt the most was the double at the par-3 16th, where a 3-foot putt for bogey did a horseshoe around the cup. Had it been a stroke-play tournament, Cejka would have beaten Pampling by two shots Sunday.
“Crazy things happen in this tournament,” Cejka said.
Just ask Chris DiMarco. Seeking his first victory since 2002, DiMarco had a seemingly commanding 9-point lead after piling up 31 points in his first two rounds.
On Friday, when he completed 10 holes of his weather-suspended opening round and then played his second round, DiMarco birdied nearly half the holes he played, making 13 birdies in all. Over the final two rounds, he made 15 bogeys.
Upon walking off the course after a disappointing, third-round 77, DiMarco quipped, “I made it a good tournament, huh?”
Added Pernice: “Chris DiMarco was nice to us today.”
DiMarco’s 6-point lead midway through the tournament had evaporated by Sunday, when he and Pampling teed off tied for the lead. DiMarco’s collapse left 17 players within 10 points of the top spot – that’s two high-altitude eagles in this format – and gave every one of the 44 players who made the cut a chance heading into a potentially wild final round.
There was plenty of Sunday wildness, but not the kind that fans usually see at Castle Pines. With the course playing to a stroke average of 74 – the fifth-highest final round on Tour this season – The International’s typical soundtrack of cheers and roars was replaced by groans and moans.
“No one took control early, which I thought it was there for it to happen,” said Pampling, who became the fifth Aussie to win on Tour this season, joining Stuart Appleby (Mercedes Championships), Craig Parry (Ford Championship at Doral) Adam Scott (Players Championship, Booz Allen Classic) and Mark Hensby (John Deere Classic).
After Pernice two-putted for birdie at the 17th to tie for the lead with 27 points, Cejka followed with a short birdie putt of his own to regain a 2-point lead. Pampling seemed to be in a spot of bother after needing three putts from the fringe for a bogey at 16, slipping 3 points behind Cejka, but rebounded in a big way at 17, recording only the fourth eagle of the round.
The outcome was similar to 2001, when no one mounted much of a charge and Pernice won with a 1-point final round.
“Normally, it’s just one or two guys who make a run on Sunday, and today nobody did it,” Cejka said.
Actually, one man made a move, albeit a very late one, and he ended up with the champion’s trophy.
“(No.) 17, that’s what this whole format is designed for, for someone to do something special on 17,” said Pampling, “and thankfully it was me.”
– Staff and wire reports