Crashing the Gate

by Brian Clarey

Crashing the Gate Donald Ross’ revenge

Jason Bohn owned the joint when he teed off on the 17th hole at Sedgefield Country Club on Sunday afternoon, the final round of the Wyndham Championship. He sat alone atop the leaderboard at 16 under par for his week’s efforts, plus he was having the best round of the day. Bohn came in on Sunday at eight under par, nestling him in a 10-way tie for 17th place. But a string of birdies on the front nine and an eagle on 15 — a 545-yard par 5 hazarded by water, bunkers and shaggy fescue — put him at eight under par for the day. Last year’s tournament winner, Grimsley High graduate Carl Petterson, who in 2008 made the course his bitch for four days running, had slid into irrelevancy at 4 under par, and Saturday’s leader, Chris Riley, was unable to make any gains on Sunday. It helped that Sergio Garcia, who led the field at the start of Sunday’s play, matched three bogeys with three birdies by the 12th hole. So Bohn teed off at the head of the pack as the sun bore down on Hole 17, a 400-yard par 4 that the Wyndham brochure calls “one of the most beautiful holes in North Carolina.” It was built by course architect Donald Ross atop a dry creek bed. A narrow fairway buttressed by trees holds a slight dogleg to the right and pinches off at the approach to the smallest green on the course. And up in the YES! Weekly Party Deck, an aerie above the 17th green, we watched this tiny slip of well-mown grass make the pros look like pikers at a putt-putt course. The rain began to fall on Thursday, a torrent that gave rise to the network of drainage creeks spiderwebbing the course, and came intermittently the first three days of the tournament, sending players, fans, volunteers and media scrambling for cover. By Sunday, when Bohn took to the links, the fairways were a hair’s breadth from becoming mud bogs and the greens held the consistency of a mostly-loaded sponge. They sucked down even the highest pitches, kicked up soft earth upon contact and refused to let golf balls golf balls bounce, which is what golf balls want to do. The tiny 17th green shredded every time a ball landed and thwarted any attempts at backspin — that is, until Scott Sterling chunked an iron to the back of the green and the ball, after a caesura, laid a stripe for about 30 feet towards the cup.

The soft, slow 17th green befuddled putters as well, carrying an almost indetectable slight to the right and inspiring muttered curses like the mal occhio. Bohn was unperturbed as he teed off on 17, a straight shot that carried about 270 yards and dropped in a depression on the right side ofthe fairway. But by the time he hit his second shot, a 135yard pitch hit the right lip of the green and rolled down the bunker, Bohn was in second place. Kevin Stadler, just a few holes behind, had hit to 17 under par, and was soon followed by Ryan Moore, the eventual winner of the tournament. But I’m getting ahead of myself…. Bohn approached his bunker shot, took an uneven stance on the slope and knocked his ball to within a few feet of that elusive cup. With a tap he saved par and then moved on to 18, Donald Ross’ Revenge, the most difficult hole on the course. It’s a long par 4, 507 yards, and with the day’s difficult pin location there would be no chance for an eagle and birdies would be as rare as January daffodils. Bohn nailed his tee shot on 18 and casually munched a banana as he made his way to his ball — this would be no time for a potassium meltdown. He greened his second shot but blew a 25-foot putt and a shot at birdie, and also his former perch atop the leaderboard. A par on 18 put him in third place, behind Stadler and Moore. The two leaders both managed eke out par after underestimating the 17th green. But Ross would have his revenge again on the 18th. For Moore it was trouble off the tee that landed him in the sand alongside the green. Stadler greened in three, but was unable to convert an eight-foot putt with the entire tournament on the line. The sudden-death playoff round began on the first hole, and Bohn was unable to maintain his hot hand, bowing out after the first hole. Moore and Stadler carried it to the third, where Moore outputted Stadler to take the title. It was Moore’s very first PGA Tour win. For his part, Stadler was able to crack the Top 125 in FedEx Cup standings, slipping under the wire for a berth in the PGA Tour playoffs which begin this week at the Barclays, held at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, NJ.