It certainly won’t be remembered in league with Merkle’s Boner or Chris Webber’s phantom timeout, but Danny Lee surely will spend at least Sunday’s Trans-Atlantic flight from the John Deere Classic to the British Open wondering what might have happened had he not mistakenly picked up his ball in the fairway four holes into Sunday’s final round.
Without the resulting penalty, Lee’s bogey at the 18th hole would have put him in a three-way playoff with a chance for a second victory in as many weeks.
Instead, he was explaining a momentary lapse in thinking while final round playing partner Jordan Spieth was dispatching 48-year-old veteran Tom Gillis on the second hole of sudden death.
“I was doing lift, clean and place the whole day yesterday, and without thinking I put the tee behind my ball and picked it up, and my caddie is going it’s not lift, clean and place today,” Lee said. “I wasn’t thinking anything. I just put a tee behind the ball, picked it up and, then, ‘Oh, wait a minute …’”
Lee still had a 9-foot putt for par after a strong post-penalty approach, but missed. Yet he fought back into a tie for the lead with one hole to play.
He said he will ride the momentum of two strong weeks into next week’s British Open.
“I feel like I can accomplish anything right now,” he said. “Hopefully, I will have another good week next week.”
Three Things to Know
1. ON SECOND THOUGHT, OPEN-BOUND: Tom Gillis spent the biggest part of the past week insisting he wouldn’t go to the Open Championship if he won the last exemption given to the highest John Deere finisher not already qualified
It wasn’t long after coming up second in his playoff with Jordan Spieth that Gillis had a second thought.
“I think I was just talking big,” said the 47-year-old self-proclaimed “ultimate journeyman,” whose journey included five years playing in Europe while working for a chance to play on the PGA TOUR. “I don’t have any sweaters. I have nothing but a passport.’’
Gillis will be making his third Open Championship start, although neither of the previous two were at St. Andrews. He has, however, played the Old Course in Dunhill Cup competitions and said, “Every time you walk up that first tee, it’s emotional. I’ve never been like that anywhere else.”
Gillis led much of the day after a 5-birdie front nine, but said he never thought much about his leaderboard position en route to a closing round of 7-under 64. He said the target was to reach 23- or 24-under par with Spieth and others pushing behind him. He finished at 20.
Ranked 634th in the world at the start of the week, Gillis matched pars with No. 2 Spieth on the first playoff trip down TPC Deere Run’s 18th hole, but when his drive went right into a gnarly lie in the rough on the second playoff hole, Gillis attempted to punch it onto the green but found water instead.
His runner-up finish matched a career-best effort at the 2012 Honda Classic, where he shared second with Tiger Woods and where Rory McIlroy’s victory lifted him to No. 1 in the world.
“Every time I get in these situations, I seem to take on the toughest kid on the block,” Gillis said of his battle with Spieth, now the hottest player in the game.
2. ZACH FINISHES THIRD WITH A BANG: Zach Johnson shared third place with Lee to continue an incredible run of success at the tournament closest to his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Johnson’s closing 6-under 65 was his 28th straight round in the 60s at Deere Run and he now has finished in the top three in six of the past seven John Deere Classics.
Sunday got interesting when Johnson was standing over a 35-foot birdie putt on the edge of the 16th green, located on a Rock River bluff. As he was preparing his stroke a loud bang was created by what Silvis police later said was an M-80 firecracker thrown from a boat on the river.
“I know it was loud,” Johnson said. “And I know I was about to hit my putt. But it’s not like it was a tap-in. Unfortunate, but as an athlete, you have to regroup and get back into it mentally. Fortunately, I did OK.”
The suspects escaped, police said.
3. STRICKER’S FRUSTRATION GROWS: How frustrated was Steve Stricker in the aftermath of a weekend that saw him pick up just a single stroke against par en route a T35 finish on a golf course he dominated the past six years?
- Of a carelessly missed backhanded 9-inch putt, he said: “It felt good to tell the truth. I almost wanted to do it.”
- He hinted — then later retracted — the thought he might not play in the PGA Championship next month in his home state of Wisconsin. “Until I can make a putt, there’s no sense in coming out,” he said.
- On solutions that could include trying something other than the Odyssey White Hot 550 putter he has employed for more than 12 years: “Maybe it’s just out of putts. Can I go to the long putter for six months?”
At that, even Stricker was amused. “You’ve got to laugh,” he said. Still, there’s little doubt one of the world’s finest putters is beyond frustrated with his balky stroke. “Just gripping the putter feels uncomfortable,” he said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Hopefully, I’ll get into the Presidents Cup and play a singles match with Jordan and try to beat him there.” — Danny Lee