JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Great Scott?
With all due respect to the brilliantly talented Aussie, no.
More like Great Shock.
Times three. Or four. Or five.
That’s the only way to sum up what unfolded against a Manhattan skyline that on this day might have been its majestic self. Only no one noticed, not when the final round of The Barclays delivered arguably the most scintillating closing scenes of the PGA Tour season.
That in the end, Adam Scott held the trophy as winner of the first FedEx Cup playoff of the season is the bottom-line story.
That three different heavyweights – first Justin Rose, then Tiger Woods, and lastly Gary Woodland – arrived at Liberty National’s 18th hole and came agonizingly close to forcing overtime is the storyline that shares top billing.
Scott wins. Others don’t. Hard to say which was more compelling. Sort of like a movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Pick the lead. Fact is, you can’t.
Even the headliner agreed.
“I’m shocked, really,” said Scott. “I feel like I’ve been given a bit of a gift. But I’ll take it.”
Having pretty much resigned himself to playing Sunday for as good a finish as possible so he didn’t slip in the FEC standings, the Masters champion shot a final-round, bogey-free, 5-under 66 to get in at 11-under 273. But clubhouse leads are meaningless, especially with 16 players still on the course, so Scott offered that it was “wishful thinking” to envision his score holding up.
Truth is, no one thought it would, either. There were two par 5s on the back. There was the very short, par-3 14th. The very short, par-4 16th. There were some of the world’s best players.
“There was no way,” said Scott’s caddie, Steve Williams.
“No. Never,” said Matt Kuchar, who started the day tied with Woodland at 12 under and authored one of the many subplots that left folks shaking their heads. But more on Kuchar later. Back to the drama at 18, which was so scintillating that the Statue of Liberty could be seen turning to her right to get a good look.
Four groups after Scott, Rose came to the 18th at 11 under. The reigning U.S. Open champion didn’t appear to be of the mindset that 11 was enough. He looked at a 25-footer straight up a slight hill “as a putt I knew I could make,” so he tried to seize the moment. Instead, he jammed it 5 feet by – “surprised,” he said – and then he missed that one, too, to shoot 68.
Scott saw that moment unfold on the television in the locker room and was utterly shocked. Gutted, really. He’s that friendly with Rose, and the Aussie concedes it would have been fun to meet head-to-head in a playoff. But suddenly he had the lead to himself.
But both Woods and Woodland were at 10 under, so Scott and Williams headed to the range. Just to be ready. On the way, they heard the big noise at 18. “Not cheers,” Scott said, and so he knew what had unfolded. What he hadn’t seen was this:
Having hit his 191-yard approach 25 feet above the hole, Woods read the line perfectly and judged the speed a shade shy of perfectly. It came up a roll short.
For the world’s top-ranked player, a tumultuous week was over. Brilliant at times, scratchy at others, he had crumbled to his knees at the 13th tee box. “It’s definitely spasms,” he said. The back pain he had talked about all week seemed to reach a pinnacle, though maybe the horrific tee shot – pulled miles left and into water – was more painful than the back.
Either way, Woods had regained his health and game to birdie 16 and 17 to give himself a chance. “Thought I made it,” he said. “It was a little double-breaker and I thought I poured it in.”
But, no. Woods’ 69 left him at 10 under, tied for second with Graham DeLaet (65) and Rose and later Woodland, who was the third and final act of heartache at 18.
“I hit a good 9-iron in there,” Woodland said of his 171-yard approach. “Gave myself a great look.”
He’s not lying, because sitting 10 feet just right of the hole, Woodland’s putt was easier than Rose’s, much simpler than Woods’, and the stage seemed set for a huge moment.
And then, the train. And its horn.
“Obviously, I heard,” said Woodland, who had been settled over his putt and about to pull the trigger when the silence was shattered by a distant horn. The crowd around the 18th green laughed, Woodland backed off, and then settled back in.
Then he slid his putt by on the left, the ball having gone right, as he and caddie Jon Yarbrough anticipated, yet not as much as they had thought.
“Hit it right where I wanted,” said Woodland, who shot 73. “Just went in the other direction.”
And with that, Scott had no more practice swings to take. No more television to watch. No more crowd reactions to listen for. He had won. Shockingly, unexpectedly, and almost apologetically.
“I guess it’s different playing an hour-and-a-half in front of the leaders and the guys who have been under pressure all day,” said Scott, a multiple winner this season for the first time since 2004. Then he shook his head. The day before, Saturday’s third round, he had started as contender, only to “play like a dog,” and he figured his round of 72 – made to look better by three late birdies – had ruined his chances.
“But I guess you’re never out of it. You never know what can happen.”
It is one of the great curiosities of this game, how things can change so dramatically, and besides Scott winning and Rose, Woods, and Woodland not at least forcing a playoff, there were other ways that this was proven. Kuchar, for instance. So consistent, so steady, he seemed a good bet to win, given that he started tied for first at 12-under.
But he bogeyed the first, made a triple at the par-4 ninth, tossed in four more bogeys coming in, and didn’t make a birdie till the 18th. He, too, was shocked over the day’s proceedings.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Kuchar, who posted his high score of the year, by two. “I only hit two bad shots; I’m not sure how it added up (to 7-over).”
While Kuchar went his way, trying to figure things out, Scott went in the other direction, also trying to figure things out.
Chances are, they’ll come to the same conclusion.