SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda — In the 20-plus years and more than 600 times Brian Gay has played on the PGA TOUR, he realizes the game is still full of surprises.
Gay rallied from a three-shot deficit on the back nine, hit gap wedge to 3 feet for birdie on the 18th hole for a 7-under 64 and then beat Wyndham Clark on the first extra hole with a 12-foot birdie putt in the Bermuda Championship.
Since golf returned from the coronavirus-caused shutdown in June, the 48-year-old Gay was missing enthusiasm and putts, not a good combination for one of the shorter hitters in golf. He missed the cut in nine of his last 11 tournaments.
“Crazy game,” Gay said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
He piled up nine birdies over his last 14 holes, including one extra hole in a sudden-death playoff, for his fifth career PGA TOUR title and his first in nearly eight years. Just over a year away from being able to join the PGA TOUR Champions, Gay is now exempt through August 2023 because of his playoff victory over Clark.
He’ll be at Kapalua to start the new year. He’ll be back at Augusta National in April.
“I’ve always known I have the game to compete,” Gay said. “It easy to doubt yourself. The players are so good and so young. A lot of them are my daughter’s age.”
Gay was happy to see at least a limited number of fans at the Bermuda Championship as the PGA TOUR slowly gets back to having some spectators. What he could have used was a video board to show him where he stood.
Only after he gunned a birdie putt some 5 feet by the hole for a three-putt bogey on the par-5 17th did he realize that cost him a share of the lead. On the closing hole at Port Royal, from a side hill lie with the ball slightly above his feet and the wind at his back, he hammered a gap wedge that was so good Gay could be heard saying, “Go in the hole.”
It settled 3 feet away for birdie to finish at 15-under 269.
In the final group behind him, Clark had a birdie putt that stopped a turn shot on the 17th. His approach to 18th was 10 feet behind the hole, and the birdie putt for the win just skirted the right edge. He made par for a 65 and a playoff.
Back to the 18th, Gay holed his birdie putt and Clark missed from about 7 feet, which would have extended the playoff.
“I’m pretty bummed,” Clark said. “I knew I had a one-shot lead. I thought I made that putt on 17 and same on 18. I had chances, I just didn’t capitalize.”
It was a lost opportunity for Clark, who birdied seven of his opening 11 holes to take a three-shot lead.
Gay, the 48-year-old who finished his final year of college at Florida six months after Clark was born, hit his best drive on the 14th hole — a tee shot that gave him fits in the opening round — that set up a 9-iron he converted for birdie. Then, he hit a gap wedge that took a big hop off the right side of the green to 4 feet for birdie to get within one.
Clark had not missed a green the entire final round until hitting into a bunker on the par-3 16th. He took a short back swing and barely got the ball out of the sand, and Clark did well to get up-and-down for bogey to tie for the lead.
Ollie Schniederjans, playing on a sponsor exemption, closed with a 66 and finished third, two shots out of the playoff. Denny McCarthy (63) and Stewart Cink (64) tied for fourth, along with Matt Jones and Doc Redman, who each shot 67.
SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – Saturday afternoon, Kramer Hickok did something for the first time in his six-year professional career.
He used a compass to check the wind — on the greens.
Bermuda Championship host venue Port Royal GC is situated adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, with several holes fully exposed to the wind. The third round featured sustained gusts of 15-20 mph, up to 25 mph.
Hickok knew the conditions would influence the break of putts, and he wanted maximum information.
“I’m asking (caddie) Billy to get the compass out and see what the wind’s doing on this putt, because you have to factor that in so much, just because the wind’s blowing so hard,” said Hickok, who stands tied for second at 9-under into the final round of the Bermuda Championship, one back of leader Doc Redman.
“Literally you’ve got a putt that’s half a cup out left, and the wind’s off the right, it will blow it left. It’s different, it’s fun, and you’ve got to embrace it.”
Those who embrace this week’s conditions at par-71 Port Royal GC are best positioned to thrive on the seaside venue, which measures just 6,828 yards but has played to a cumulative over-par total this week (71.374).
Between the second and third rounds, the wind direction flipped nearly 180 degrees, causing the most exposed holes to play in drastically different fashion.
The 443-yard, par-4 11th played downwind on Friday, and Hickok nearly drove the green, his ball settling 35 yards shy of the hole – with a back hole location.
Saturday, that was not the case.
“I was five yards, 10 yards off the front edge yesterday, and today I bombed the drive and had 8-iron and left it 20 yards short,” Hickok said. “So my 8-iron today ended up in the same spot that my driver was yesterday. It was wild.
“(Today), it was 135 yards, and I thought I hit a 165-yard shot with an 8-iron, and it came up 20 yards short, and that’s just because of elevation. It’s already playing 12 (yards) downwind, so the wind’s just going to hit it that much more. It’s just hard to give yourself a 6-iron or 7-iron from 135 yards.”
“Yesterday to that back pin, I probably had 75 yards,” added Redman, who arrived in Bermuda on the strength of two third-place finishes in his past five starts. “And then today, I had maybe 135 (yards), and I hit 7-iron. Quite a bit different.”
Windy conditions are to be expected in Bermuda. Players know upon arrival that they’ll need to execute a variety of shots in order to keep pace, and that the nature of the challenge could differ by the day, or even the hour.
“We’re not playing in a dome,” said Ryan Armour, one back into Sunday in chase of his second PGA TOUR title. “We’re on an island in the Atlantic. This isn’t Palm Springs. You’ve got to hit some golf shots. It’s fun.”
With blind tee shots, narrow fairways and sharp doglegs, Port Royal facilitates players hitting from similar positions in the fairways, generally neutralizing distance off the tee. Consequently, a variety of playing styles are represented on the leaderboard through 54 holes.
“Especially with this wind, being in the fairway is really nice,” noted Redman, 22, who ranked No. 95 on TOUR in driving distance last season. “You can control your ball flight better, and your distance. On some holes, (distance) definitely helps, but for me, I just want to be in the fairway.”
“You can’t really overpower this place,” added Armour, 44, who ranked No. 182 in driving distance last season. “It’s kind of nice knowing that everybody’s going to be hitting from the same spot.”
It makes for an eclectic leaderboard – of the top-seven into the final round, four players are in their 20s (Redman, Hickok, Wyndham Clark, Ollie Schniederjans), and three are in their 40s (Armour, Brian Gay and Matt Jones).
Similar conditions are expected Sunday, and creativity should remain at a premium on the Atlantic.
With 500 FedExCup Points awarded to the winner – along with a two-year TOUR exemption, and entry into a cornucopia of top-tier events – the contenders plan to embrace the challenge.
“It’s such a feel game right now, the way the course is playing, which is a lot of fun,” Hickok said. “You don’t get that a lot on this TOUR. You’ve got to open up the imagination and just hit different shots. It’s fun.”
SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda — Ryan Armour and Wyndham Clark survived ferocious wind Friday in the Bermuda Championship to share the lead going into a weekend that includes 64-year-old Fred Funk.
Armour could only guess where the 30 mph gusts would blow his golf ball across Port Royal. The 44-year-old from Ohio still managed three early birdies and another on the par-5 17th for a 1-under 70. Clark played in the afternoon and reached 10 under par until a pair of late bogeys for a 68.
They were at 8-under 134, one shot ahead of Kramer Hickok (68).
The big surprise was the former PLAYERS champ Funk, who only played because he had a chance to be paired with his son, Taylor, who played collegiately at the University of Texas. Funk, whose last PGA TOUR victory was in 2007 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, chipped in for birdie from the behind the ninth green for a 72, and his son was so excited he about knocked him to the ground in celebration.
“This guy is pretty damn good for an old guy,” said Taylor, who shot an 81, one of nine players who shot in the 80s on the windswept day in Bermuda.
“He fought back and he made the cut, and not many 64-year-olds can do that in the world,” he said. “It was fun to watch him play.”
Funk is the oldest player to make the cut on the PGA TOUR since 65-year-old Tom Watson five years ago in the RBC Heritage at Hilton. The only other players 64 or older to make the cut since 1970 were Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead.
“And then Funk. You throw that in there, it doesn’t sound right, does it?” Fred Funk said. “I don’t know whether I compete, but making the cut was big.”
It wasn’t easy on a day like this, where the wind was so strong it was difficult to stand up, especially on some of the holes along the ocean.
“Today was really hard,” Armour said. “We didn’t know whether to say get up, get down, what to tell it. We couldn’t judge the distance very well and we had some balls going sideways out there and my ball doesn’t usually go sideways. And it would just get up in the wind and it would go 20 yards further left or right than you wanted it to.”
That made the performance by Clark even more remarkable, although the wind finally caught up with him when he took bogeys on the par-5 seventh and the par-3 eighth to fall back into a tie with Armour.
Clark wasn’t caught up in the late bogeys, especially the last one.
“We all were hitting 6- and 5-irons into a par 3 from 160, and I missed about a 5-footer,” Clark said. “It’s bound to happen. If I didn’t bogey those, it would be one of the best rounds of my career. But it’s pretty hard to play a round with 30 mph wind and not make any bogeys.
“I’m not looking at those last two bogeys,” he said. “I’m up there in contention, and that’s all that matters.”
The best round of the day belonged to Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who not only shot 66, he played bogey-free. He was three shots behind, while Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington used all his Irish experience in the wind for a 71 — two birdies, two bogeys, 14 pars — and was four shots behind.
SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda — Peter Malnati saw his infant son at a PGA Tour event for the first time since the pandemic, which brought a smile to his face and another birdie on his card for an 8-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the Bermuda Championship.
The tournament is the first to allow limited fans — no more than 500 a day at Port Royal — since the opening round of The Players Championship on March 12.
The final birdie was the ninth of the round for Malnati, who has gone from the South to the West to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and keeps playing some of his best golf.
It was the third time in his last three events he posted a 63 or lower. Malnati was runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi and followed that with a tie for fifth in Las Vegas.
This round gave him a one-shot lead over Ryan Armour and Doug Ghim, who birdied his last two holes.
“With everything in the world right now — and this island is doing a phenomenal job with their testing protocol and keeping everyone safe — I just didn’t know if it was actually going to work for them to get out here,” Malnati said of about his wife and 1-year-old son. “So coming off that disappointing bogey on 17, I hit a nice drive on 18 and before I even get my yardage or anything, I see my wife and boy standing out there.
“It just brought a huge smile to my face,” he said. “To see them and then to finish with that birdie, I’m a happy man.”
Malnati ran off five straight birdies starting with No. 9, and he was looking to finish strong. Among the shorter hitters in the modern power game, he had made up his mind to take on the bunkers down the right side of the par-5 17th hole and turn it into an easy birdie.
Instead, he turned it left into the water for a penalty stroke and made bogey.
“So that stunk,” he said. “But how can I complain about much? Were on the island of Bermuda and I sure played great.”
The Bermuda Championship matches the weakest field of the year on the PGA Tour, though it receives full status this year because the HSBC Champions in Shanghai was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning Bermuda is not the same week as a World Golf Championship. The winner receives an invitation to the Masters next year.
It also is the start of consecutive PGA Tour events allowing limited fans. The Houston Open has said it will sell no more than 2,000 ticket a day. The Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, the first event on 2021, also announced this week it would limited fans.
Doc Redman, Vaughn Taylor and Chase Seiffert were at 65, while Hunter Mahan was in the group at 66. It was Mahan’s lowest opening round in more than two years.
Three-time major champion and Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington opened with a 67. Harrington won at Port Royal in 2013 in the final stages of the course hosting the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
Fred Funk, the 64-year-old regular on the PGA Tour Championship, shot 69. He played in the same group as his son, Taylor Funk, who shot a 73.