by Jeff Skinner
This is what Tim Finchem and The PGA Tour had envisioned for “The Playoffs”: a leader board with marquee names on the final day. They got just what they wanted. Big names dominated the leader board late Sunday afternoon: Woods, Els, Harrington, Stricker, Slocum…wait, Slocum? Yes, Heath “Party Crasher” Slocum was able to hang with the big boys and sink a clutch putt on eighteen to shock everyone from Tim Finchem to Tiger Woods to Lady Liberty and win the first leg of the playoffs at The Barclays. Slocum barely made it into The Barclays as he was ranked 124th in FedEx Cup points and only the top 125 made it. What a difference a week makes, he now ranks at number three in Cup points. Slocum started in sixth place and after he eagled the fifth with a 158 yard from the fairway he was at eight under for the tournament and in the hunt to stay.
Slocum wasn’t fazed as he watched the big names climb up the leader board. A resurgent Ernie Els shot five under to get to the clubhouse at -8. Padraig Harrington continued his good play and managed a 67 to tie Els with the lead in the club house. Tiger Woods had struggled with reading the greens all week but he putted much better during the final round, until the eighteenth hole. Woods was a little less than seven feet from the cup on his final hole for birdie. His birdie would put him at nine under in the club house and force Slocum and Steve Stricker to play solid golf coming in. Woods seems like the most clutch putter in history and almost never misses these when there is something on the line. The impossible happened: he drove his put three feet past the hole and settled for par. He was tied with Ernie and Paddy and had to hope for Slocum and Stricker to stumble as they were at nine under. It looked as if there might be a five way playoff after Stricker and Slocum found fairway bunkers with their tee balls at eighteen.
Both hit the lip of their bunkers as they hit out and were left with wedge shots into the green for their third shots. Slocum could only manage to get the ball to twenty-one feet from the hole while Stricker fared better and left himself with a ten foot par putt. It looked like Stricker had a better chance to sink his and stay at nine under. That was until Slocum stepped up and rolled it in the hole. With that putt he knocked out Woods, Els and Harrington, and Stricker needed to make his to tie Slocum for a playoff. When Stricker missed and took bogey Slocum was left as the last man standing in a big name Battle Royal, only the big names fell short and #124 was the winner.
It is difficult to choose between the two biggest surprises of the day. Was it Heath Slocum winning? He was on no one’s list of players to watch, not even a sleeper pick. Or is it more shocking that Tiger missed a putt on the eighteenth that would have at the very least, got him into a playoff. Woods and his putts on eighteen are legendary, but today his putter failed him. The first week of the playoffs delivered just as The PGA Tour advertised. It was a shocking and surprising ending and probably not quite what the Tour had planned, but it was close enough.