Australian Rod Pampling proved to be just lucky enough this St. Patrick's Day weekend to overcome a two-shot deficit with two holes to play. He started the day with a substantial four-shot lead, but quickly saw that lead collapse after carding a double-bogey six on the par-four 13th hole after shoving his drive out-of-bounds. He thought that he had handed the tournament to Greg Owen on a silver platter, the two-shot lead seemed too great to overcome in just two holes. However, Owen would take three putts to get down from 40 inches on the 17th green and would drop another stroke after a putt that looked center-cut agonizingly lipped out on the 72nd hole. "I can't believe it missed," he said afterward. "I cannot believe it missed."
Pampling used to be known as that guy who held the first-round lead of the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie only to blow up Friday and miss the cut. Now he's known as only the second non-American player to ever win the Bay Hill Invitational.
Before play started this week, there was a lot of buzz about the enormous strength of this field and with five out of the top six players in the world present, it was strong. However, after the first day of play Ernie Els was the only of the big names present on the first page of the leaderboard, one off the lead with a 67 (-5), behind Bart Bryant and Dean Wilson. Tiger Woods was disappointingly three off the pace with a 70 featuring five birdies and three bogeys. Interestingly enough, infamously short-hitting Corey Pavin played well enough on Arnie's lengthy layout to card a 69 (-3). He stayed on the leaderboard throughout the weekend.
St. Patrick's Day featured a nearly bogey-less round from Robert Allenby, who had gone 68-67 and nine-under-par and a second consecutive 67 from Lucas Glover who overcame a double-bogey on the 11th hole by managing seven birdies throughout his round. Irishman Darren Clarke didn't wear any green and, perhaps consequently, got around in a rather pedestrian 70, which was more than Tiger Woods could say for himself. Tiger, who had only two under-par holes (an eagle on the 5th hole and a birdie on the 12th), got home in a one-under-par 71. His distance control with his irons seemed to be a bit off, but he blamed his poor scoring on his inability to get used to Arnie's greens. This was fairly evident as Tiger left some of his lengthier putts either well short or well long. He led in greens in regulation for the first two days of the tournament, but as we all know too well, if you can't drop some putts, you're not going to make a whole lot of noise. World #6 Sergio Garcia managed to get himself on page one of the leaderboard with a 68 and a 69. Just like Tiger, Sergio's shortcoming this week was his putting - he looked tremendously stiff and uneasy over each an every putt, missing most of them by mere inches.
The buzz on Saturday was Darren Clarke's 63, which flirted with the course record for a while. This stellar round by the flamboyant Irishman featured a stretch of eight holes in which he birdied seven of them. He danced around the course with no bogeys and had a fantastic day on the greens. His 63 was one off the course record and was good enough to put him four back of Rod Pampling by the end of the day. Speaking of Pampling, his excellent 67 featured a very ballsy birdie on the infamous 18th hole (the second-hardest finishing hole on Tour in 2005) to up his lead by one more. Owen also finished the day with a 67 and would play the next day with Clarke and Pampling. Sergio was only able to finish the day one-under and was six off the lead by day's end.
Owen came out gunning for the Australian, birdieing the second, sixth, and seventh holes to cut the lead to three. Then to two when Owen birdied the 10th when Pampling could not. All Owen needed to draw even with Pampling was a par-4 on the 13th hole as Rod jacked one OB into a nearby resident's backyard and finished the hole with a double-bogey six. Owen birdied the next to hold the lead for the first time that day. With few holes to play, Pampling began to think that he had given this tournament away, but as he watched Owen three-putt from 40 inches on 17 for a double bogey their deficit was nulled and it was game-on for the 72nd hole. Owen stood over his putt on the 18th green, a putt he knew he had to hole to force a play off and putt what he called, "the best stroke of the week" on it, then watched the seemingly center-cut ball dive ridiculously deep into the cup only to lip out again. Game-over. As stated earlier, this victory makes Pampling only the second international victor in the event's history.
On a side note, I found it interesting that Pampling was ranked 59th in driving distance - averaging only 272.8 yards per drive. Bay Hill is no lay-down course, and it is pretty long at 7,239 yards. It's surprising to me that a guys like Pampling, Bryant, and Pavin can appear so far up on the leaderboard. I guess this just supports the theory that driving distance really doesn't account for much. Where Pampling really brought home the bread was with his putting, in which he was ranked second.
Pos Player R1 R2 R3 R4 Tot 1 Rod Pampling 70 65 67 72 274 2 Greg Owen 70 69 67 69 275 3 Darren Clarke 73 70 63 70 276 4 Robert Allenby 68 67 73 69 277 T5 Lee Westwood 68 71 72 67 278 T5 Ted Purdy 69 71 72 67 278
Battling wind and rain, Hall-of-Famer Juli Inkster overcame a four-stroke deficit to win the Safeway International on Sunday. This was her 31st career U.S. LPGA Tour title and first since 2003. She managed a 5-under 67 to finish at 15-under 273, two strokes ahead of Sarah Lee. Lee, who had led since the last hole of the second round, double-bogeyed the par-4 14th hole to allow Inkster to take a one-stroke lead. Inkster bogeyed the 16th to drop back into a tie, but Inkster locked up the victory with a birdie on the par-5 18th as Lee was bogeying the 17th.
Annika Sorenstam, the two-time defending Safeway International champion, shot a 6-under 66 to finish at 281. She remained strangely silent for most of the week at the event she carded the notorious 59.