ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Ben Crane wasn’t sure why he was even playing the McGladrey Classic. The real mystery came Sunday afternoon, when he sat down next to a shiny silver trophy.
“What the heck am I doing here?” Crane said.
His wife is expecting their third child, though a Caesarian section is scheduled for Monday in Dallas. Crane thought about withdrawing five minutes before his tee time Thursday because of a sore hip that was getting worse.
And with 11 holes left in the tournament, he was seven shots out of the lead.
Crane ran off four straight birdies around the turn, then another batch of four straight birdies for a 7-under 63. He wound up winning in a playoff when Webb Simpson missed a short par putt on the second extra hole.
“I’m in a little bit of shock — a lot of shock,” Crane said. “I don’t know how those guys played, but I know I played just about as good as I can play.”
Michael Thompson, a 25-year-old tour rookie who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, stretched the margin to three shots on the front nine until he stalled. He hit his tee shot into a hazard on the 18th hole, made bogey and shot 69 to finish one shot out of the playoff.
Billy Horschel, also playing in the last group, imploded early and late and shot 75.
Simpson closed with a 66, despite not making a birdie over his last seven holes. The playoff — the 18th this year on the PGA Tour to extend a record — looked as though it might go longer when Crane made a 5-foot comebacker for par on the 17th. Simpson only had to knock in a putt just over 3 feet for par, but it caught the right edge and spun away.
“As soon as I hit it, I looked up expecting it to be going in, and saw it catching the right lip,” Simpson said. “It was unfortunate to end that way.”
Despite missing a chance to become the PGA Tour’s only three-time winner this year, Simpson’s runner-up finish gave him a commanding lead over Luke Donald in his late bid to win the tour’s money title.
Crane, who earned $720,000 for his first win this year, and Simpson finished at 15-under 265 at Sea Island.
Starting the day five shots out of the lead, Crane thought a 63 or 62 might be enough. He really didn’t pay much attention, not realizing until he saw a leaderboard on the 16th hole that he was still in the game.
His 7-iron on the 14th stopped a foot from going in. His 3-wood on the par-5 15th set up a two-putt birdie from long range. Once he knew the score, Crane was at his best with the putter, holing birdie putts of about 20 feet on the 16th and 17th.
“I thought, ‘Well, I need to make two birdies in three holes.’ Do you guys have any idea how many times we say that to ourselves? And how many times does it actually happen?”
It did on Sunday, giving Crane is fourth career win.
With his runner-up finish, Simpson moved to the top of the money list by $363,029 over Donald. Both have entered the season-ending tournament next week in Disney, though Donald’s task became a lot more difficult.
At the very least, Donald would have to finish no worse than a two-way for second to have any chance to move past Simpson and resume his bid to become the first player to win money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour. Donald already has a comfortable lead in Europe.
“Finishing second is going to make it a lot harder for Luke,” Simpson said. “But I’m sure he’s going to play well. He’s played well most every week this year. I still wouldn’t be surprised if I have a little work to do next week.”
Crane was playing his last official PGA Tour event of the year. His wife, Heather, is home in the Dallas area and they arranged for the birth to be on Monday. If all goes well — and Crane gets good news from a hip scan Wednesday — he might go to Malaysia to defend his title in the unofficial Asia Pacific Classic.
Thompson missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 15th that would have given him the outright lead, and then his nerves started to show with errant tee shots. He got away with one on the 16th, but not on the final hole, when his tee shot went into the hazard and cost him a penalty drop.
“All I think about on those tee shots is just hit in the middle of club face,” Thompson said. “And for one reason, that one tee shot I didn’t. And It got me.”
The small consolation was a third-place finish that assures him keeping his card for next year.
Also locking up his card was Bud Cauley, the 21-year-old who left Alabama after his junior season to turn pro. Cauley shot 67 and tied for 15th to earn $64,000, and now is the equivalent of No. 112 on the money list.
He is only the sixth player to go from college and earn his tour card without having to through Q-school, and Cauley joins Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only players to accomplish that feat in eight starts or fewer.
“It’s very exciting for me,” Cauley said. “I can’t wait to come out here and play all year out here.”
A pair of major champions had their best finish of the year. Louis Oosthuizen, who won at St. Andrews last summer, was one shot out of the lead until a bogey on the 18th. He closed with a 66 to finish fourth. Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman, slowed the last two years by a wrist injury that eventually required surgery, had a 69 and finished finish.
It was Immelman’s first top 10 since 2008.
DIVOTS: Scott McCarron shot a 68 to tie for sixth, earning a spot in the field next week at Disney. He also moved to No. 145 on the money list, which would at least give him conditional status next year if he stays there. … Going into the final tournament, James Driscoll is at No. 125 on the money list by $6,287 over Bill Lunde, who already is exempt next year. Billy Mayfair, who won Q-school last year, is at No. 127 by $12,367.