PLANO, Texas – Results to the contrary, it is not the way Robert Karlsson would suggest you play the par-3 17th hole at Gleneagles Country Club, a 190-yarder that felt like 290 given that it was into a robust warm wind and was all carry over water.
But, hey, whatever works, eh?
The tall and personable Swede laughed, perhaps still confounded by how an Open Championship final qualifier unfolded. Seemingly playing beautifully enough to coast in as one of the top eight scorers, Karlsson three-putted his 35th hole, the par-4 seventh, then hit his tee ball into a hazard on his final hole, the par-4 eighth.
Finishing double-bogey, bogey left Karlsson at 4-under 136, tied with three others – Luke Guthrie, Bud Cauley and Andres Echavarria.
The only thing was, there was only room for three of them.
You certainly could tell, too, who was in and who was out as everyone bunched around the scoring board. Those who had posted 7 under (Josh Teater), 6 under (Johnson Wagner and Camilo Villegas), and 5 under (Scott Brown and Brian Davis), wore flip-flops, t-shirts, and even bounced their children on their laps (that would be Brown).
Their long and hot day had been completed in satisfying fashion, five guaranteed tickets punched to the Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland (July 18-21).
Those who had the 4-for-3 playoff? With skies darkening and warm winds swirling and the frightful word “tornadoes” being bandied about, they went to the putting green and practice range. No one figured there was a lot of time left, but given that officials had deemed the 17th as the first playoff hole, chances were pretty good it would end quickly.
And it did, too, as Echavarria, an unheralded 25-year-old from Colombia whose idol – Villegas – walked out to watch the overtime, missed a slippery 6-footer and was eliminated with a bogey.
Sounds simple, eh?
With golf, it never is, because only Cauley avoided an adventure in the playoff. Hitting last, Cauley hit a 6-iron wide right and 45 feet long, but he lagged it within inches and had an easy par.
The others couldn’t breathe so easy.
Then again, it’s a hole that caused havoc all day, and for testimony ask Jordan Spieth. The 19-year sensation, playing in front of a lot of friends and family from the Dallas area, was 3 under as he walked to the tee box at 17 in the afternoon. Though he didn’t know it at the time, he had to play the next two holes in 1 under to at least get in a playoff, but he never came close.
He rinsed two in the water at 17, made a quadruple-bogey, and his bid to get into the Open Championship was through – at least for this day.
Though the lads in the playoff foursome handled 17 a little better than Spieth, it still created heartache. Guthrie, the only one of the four to hit 7-iron, held his breath as his ball sort of ballooned into the wind and barely made it over the water, and Echavarria was left shaking his head when his 6-iron tracked the hole, but drifted a bit left and landed in a greenside bunker.
“I knew 6-iron was too much,” Echavarria said, “but 7-iron wasn’t enough.”
With Cauley in with par, Karlsson was next to play. “I knew it was a pretty quick putt, but I didn’t want to leave it above the hole,” he said.
Guess what? He succeeded – and then some. Karlsson’s putt raced past the hole, perhaps as much as 15 feet. Onlookers probably figured he was in trouble, but they didn’t know how he had played the hole twice earlier.
In the first round, “I left a putt 10 feet above the hole, and in the second round I hit it 10 feet past the hole.” He made both of them, so ho-hum, when he made the 15-footer in the playoff to save par, Karlsson could only laugh.
Echavarria, who had blasted out only to see his ball stay above the hole, was next to play and he lipped out his bid, which gave Guthrie the chance to shut the door on this playoff. Having stood on a railway tie to play his second shot to 4 feet, Guthrie calmly dropped it to pull the curtain down on a long, hot, and windy day.
Good drama for media types and fun for fans, these 36-hole qualifiers are anything but for the players. Even for those who make it through, like Wagner.
“They’re not fun at all. They’re terrible,” said Wagner, who shot 68-66. It was a shot higher than the medalist, Teater (64-69), but this was one time when the idea was to survive, not win.
Thus did Villegas (68-66), Brown (71-64), and Davis (66-69) also wear big smiles.
Which isn’t to say it was easy for any of them. Davis, for instance, was 3 under out of the gates in his morning round when he bogeyed 17, bogeyed 18, and hit a shot out-of-bounds at the first and made double. From happy with himself, to miserable in a matter of minutes, Davis then ripped off six straight birdies.
That put him in a better mood and he was fine from there on.
Others never really got the chance to get anything going. Davis Love, for instance. Having played in 26 consecutive Open Championships, he desperately wanted to make it 27. But he bogeyed three of his first six holes in the morning, made just one birdie in the afternoon, and at 70-72 he was well off the pace.
“My ball-striking is really good, but I’m a little rusty,” said Love, who had neck surgery earlier this year and had been sidelined until the Players Championship last week.
Stuart Appleby, who was in a four-way playoff the last time the Open Championship was held at Muirfield (2002), also failed to make it through. He shot 70-72. Another who came up short was Ryo Ishikawa. He shot 69-72 to finish at 1 over, playing holes 16-18 in 5 over.
In all, 78 players showed up, but five withdrew midway through Round 1. Another 20 withdrew either after Round 1 or somewhere during Round 2, so at the end of the day, only 53 completed 36 holes. When Guthrie’s putt ended the proceedings and Echavarria removed his hat to with his competitors well, we were left with three who had qualified for their first major – Teater, Brown, Guthrie – and when you toss in Cauley, who will be playing in his first Open Championship, it was a day of new faces but an old story: These 36-hole qualifiers are tough on the players, but sure provide fun for everyone else.