Sunday, 24 August 2008

It wouldn't be the Play-offs if we didn't have a play-off

It was a tightly packed star studded leaderboard for the final round of The Barclays; it's funny how the prospect of $10 million dollars can bring the best out in the best of the PGA Tour. They were jockeying for position all day, 11 guys within two shots of the lead halfway through, it was open to anyone. But no-one seemed prepared to make the killer blow.

Steve Stricker saw his lead disappear yesterday in spectacular fashion. Two early birdies gave no indication of the collapse which was to come. He played his last 12 holes in 8 over par. Five bogeys and a shocking triple bogey seven on the par four twelfth. It saw him plummet out of the lead as quickly as he had shot up there on day two, going from the round of the day 64 to a worst of the day 77. It won't have pleased Paul Azinger to see that - Stricker was looking to be one of his strongest picks to make. Especially when there's been so many strong performances from the Europeans. A par round today saw him a good few shots back in the end on four under, having held a four shot lead yesterday on 12 under at one point.

It was Vijay Singh who made the most of yesterday, emerging with a typically strong challenge. His five under par 66 was good enough to move him into a tie for second place.

Kevin Streelman, in his rookie year, had a quality round of 68 to take the lead, only dropping one shot all day. It's an unusual situation for Streelman. The green on the 7th hole, aptly named "The Cemetary Hole" is right next to the graveyard where two of his grandparents are buried. A little morbid perhaps, but as a result, he's been seeing all sorts of relatives this week that he hasn't met for a good few years and it appears the extra support buoyed him up well and he held the lead at the end of the third round.

On to day four and it was a case of who want’s to win it most. The problem was no one seemed to.

Matthew Goggin of Australia got in very early with a flawless round of 67 which moved him to seven under and as the greens dried out and became less predictable he was looking better and better odds to perhaps gain a chance of a play-off.

Paul Casey had a huge putt on the last to get back to six under. Just before his stroke Faldo jokingly said, "If he makes it, he's in the team", perhaps confident he would miss as no one had made a big putt on 18 all day. Casey duly obliged though and had El Capitan Nick scrambling to retract his statement, saying he's picking his team next week, not now. Still that was a good way to stick in his thoughts Paul and a good tie for 7th does him no harm.

Kevin Sutherland made a late move to grab the lead on 8 under and with everyone else drifting back was looking great. A very dodgy second shot which refused to draw back into the green left him way right. His pitch trickled off the green but he managed to make his up and down. His drive on 18 went way right into the trees leaving him unable to cut it enough to get at the green. Out of a tricky steep lie in the left rough however he floated his pitch to four feet, beautifully judged, and took a gutsy par to set the total at eight under

Sergio Garcia, mis-clubbed on 8 to come up way short and a bogey duly followed. But on several other occasions throughout the round, his clutch putting really kept his challenge alive and his iron play was frighteningly good at times.

Sergio stepped on to 17 needing a good drive and unleashed an absolute monster, 331 yards to the right fairway, the longest seen all week. Incredibly pumped, he managed to carry a four iron 250 yards to get just off the back of the green in two, striking the ball just about perfectly he got more of it than even he thought he would. His chip back down the length of the green was immaculate leaving him a two inch tap in for a birdie to get the lead back. Three of the best shots you'll ever see.

Another huge drive followed on 18, ripping another to 316 yards, shouting and pumping his fist. His approach shot was just a wedge for him at a full 150 yards to the pin. "He ripped it" was pretty much the same thing as what Nick faldo had said on his last ten shots, but it was no less true for that. It was only 17 ft short of the hole after the tremendous spin he had generated was done with it. Another birdie opportunity but he narrowly missed to stay on 8 under and await what Vijay could manage on the way in.

Kevin Streelman looked as though he was out of things for a long time after two bogeys on 11 and 12 had him on 5 under but a snaky long putt on 16 got him back on the scent and even though he needed to pop one out back onto the fairway a cracking approach left him a four footer to get back to back birdies. A horrible drive on 18 squeaked out to the right which left everyone thinking he had blew his chance of making a play-off, but a brilliant second saw him 16 feet from the hole. He couldn't make it three in a row, just scraping the edge of the hole with his attempt.

Playing despite a bout of tendonitis Vijay Singh had his forearm heavily strapped. Commentating on CBS, Nick Faldo revealed he had overheard the Fijian screaming and howling in agony as he received massage for it. But Vijay won't let a little thing like an intensely painful injury get in the way of his relentless chase of dollars, I mean glory...

He was one back on the 17th when he hit two majestic blows to set up a rare eagle chance for himself. The strapped arm was certainly not bothering him then. He let the putt dribble right though but it was enough to see him take birdie and tie the lead going up the last. A birdie to win.

He got the perfect drive and his second shot just managed to hold on to the edge of a ridge to give him that birdie chance. His long effort was not good enough and we were back to the tee for a three-way fight to the death, Singh, Garcia and Sutherland which I will describe in detail for your pleasure.

How did the rest fare?

"Big Time" Ben Curtis as he's coming to be known with his habit of keeping his best showing for the big tournaments was at his trick again. They don't come much bigger than the first play-off event for $10 million big ones. Striking late, a birdie on 14 got him into a tie for the lead on eight under but he dropped back with a sloppy bogey on 16 to be in a tie for 4th on –7.

Scot, Martin Laird continued his recent vein of rich form, having only just scraped into the top 144 to make the play-offs, he finished with a fine 67 to get himself way up the leaderboard. A tremendous finish on the back nine saw him snatching four birdies in the last seven holes for a tie of 7th. He’s now in a great position to get further into the Fedex Cup play-offs.

Anthony Kim again put in a solid performance to lie 12th but in an ominous statement claimed that he was struggling with his swing.

"I've not felt comfortable with my swing since the British Open. I know my scores haven't shown that but I'm just not comfortable with it. The goal for the next few weeks is just to get my swing back."

Okay, so if he's playing like that with a dodgy swing then the golfing world, Tiger included, should probably start worrying about what he's gonna do when he is comfortable with it...

Hunter Mahan after his amazing nine under first round, never featured since. His rounds of 73, 74, 73 saw him drift back to 2 under and back to 31st place. Pretty average stuff. The likes of him and Stricker will have got Azinger unduly excited this week and will leave him wondering whether they are worth the picks. Kevin Sutherland has done himself plenty of good.

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