by Jeff Skinner
Sunday’s final round at The Players Championship gave us a wonderful display of excellent, intense golf that came down to the last group to determine the winner. When Robert Allenby missed his birdie putt on eighteen for a tie with Tim Clarke at sixteen under par the monkey jumped off of Clarke’s back and he had his first ever PGA Tour victory.
Clarke had played flawless golf on Sunday and his 67 was the low round of the day. He played the last 26 holes without a bogey and made a big move in the middle of his round. He birdied five of six holes starting at the seventh hole and got it to sixteen under. From that point he played steady golf and finished with solid pars on seventeen and eighteen especially. Those last two holes have been the downfall of many potential Players Champions. Clarke was not about to fall victim to them. He hit a solid nine iron to 25 feet on seventeen and two putted for par. On eighteen he crushed a perfect draw 290 yards down the fairway. When his approach rolled across the front of the green he was left with a long 69 foot putt to the hole. His first putt stopped short and left him with a testy eight foot putt. He took little time dropping it in the center of the cup and celebrated with a fist pump. He then had to wait for Allenby and Lee Westwood to finish.
Westwood was essentially done after a bogey on fourteen. He couldn’t find a fairway for most of the day. When he splashed it on seventeen he ran out of chances to catch Clarke. Allenby had a chance to catch Clarke with a great putt for birdie at seventeen. He left his eleven footer an excruciating three inches short and when he couldn’t birdie eighteen Clarke had won his first PGA Tour event in 206 tries.
It was great theater all day and it shows that we can have a superb golf tournament with players that aren’t named Tiger or Phil. Clarke, Allenby and Westwood all have their own appealing stories. Westwood has been the biggest bridesmaid of late finishing second at majors and everywhere else on U.S. soil. He too is still chasing his first PGA tour victory and has comeback from falling to 243 in the World Rankings. Robert Allenby has been in the same bridal party as Westwood with at least one second or third place finish in each of the last four years. He last won in 2001 and was hoping to honor his mother who died from cancer last year with a win on Sunday. Clarke had the reputation of a tough competitor that couldn’t close the deal. He’s five foot seven and his putter must be five foot six because it’s almost as tall as he is. He plays in a world of big bombers but his win shows that there’s many ways to play this game.
Clarke played his game for most of the tournament: drive it in the fairway, hit the green and hope for a good shot at birdie. He won this tournament with accurate driving (5th in the field), hitting the greens (4th) and solid putting (8th). But Clarke must have been really pumped up on the back nine. On eighteen he pumped his driver out 290 yards and he didn’t hit a driver less than 283 yards on the back and he even bombed a few over 300 yards. This from a guy who averaged 273 yards for the week and has a 267 yard average for the season. A little adrenaline can go a long way I guess. Anyone that can shoot 66, 67 on the weekend at Sawgrass deserves the win, the trophy and the $1,710,000 check. That’s not a bad payday for one of the nicest fellows on tour. Since he finally has broken through we’ll probably see more shots of Tim holding some championship hardware in the near future.