HARTFORD, Conn – There was a smorgasborg for Connecticut golf fans to chew on this weekend.
First, 2017 Travelers Championship winner Jordan Spieth was in the hunt for a second PGA Tour title in nine weeks in the Charles Schwab Challenge in his native Texas after going 1,351 days without reaching the winner’s circle in the British Open a month after his victory in his debut at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Then in the PGA Tour Champions’ second major of the year, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, former University of Hartford teammates Jerry Kelly and Glastonbury native Tim Petrovic were paired together in the penultimate threesome at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
Spieth, who won the Charles Schwab Challenge in 2016 and the Valero Texas Open on April 4, began the day with a one-stroke lead over playing partner Jason Kokrak but had difficulty finding fairways and greens in regulation as he bogeyed three of the first four holes for the first time in 36 PGA Tour rounds at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
The trend continued through the 18th hole, where Spieth hooked his approach into the water to close with a bogey for a 3-over-par 73 and 268, two strokes behind Krokak, who closed with 70. Speith has now held the lead after 54 holes five times & only won once.
“Neither one of us had our A game,” said Kokrak, 36, whose first PGA Tour win came in the CJ CUP 2 SHADOW CREEK in October. “But I managed to get it done against someone whom the crowd was obviously really rooting for and made a few comments that I didn’t really appreciate down the stretch. I don’t know if it motivated me, but I told myself like the last time I would just stay patient, one shot at a time.
“That sounds like everyone else, but you can’t get ahead of yourself in this game. It doesn’t owe you anything, so you take each shot for what it is, whether you make a bogey or a par or a birdie. Each hole is an individual match against yourself, and Jordan was there the whole day. He was up a couple, down a couple, and I made my mistakes and he made his mistakes. I made a couple nice birdies and nice putts on the front to get back to even and started to hit the ball better through the middle of the round. A couple of hiccups, but things like that when you’re in the heat are going to happen.”
About the same time, Hoffman finished off a 65 for 270, but that was only good for a tie for third with Patton Kizzire (67), Sebastian Munoz (68) and Ian Poulter (68), who is trying to make a run for another European Ryder Cup berth. McNealy struggled on the back nine with five bogeys for 72-276 and a tie for 20th that included 2014 Travelers Championship winner Kevin Streelman (72).
“I didn’t play well at all quite simply,” said Spieth, who moved to second in the FedExCup points standings. “I could have shot even par and won the tournament, but from the very get-go, just a really bad start and then I tried to fight my way through it. But I was just really off my golf swing. I really lost it this weekend. You just have to be in control around Colonial.
“I putted really well. I made a couple really nice par saves on putts that had to start outside the hole in ranges where I just kind of have been struggling to hit really solid putts, and I thought that was a big move. And I’ve been striking the ball beautifully this year, and I just have to hit the reset button tomorrow and get to work the next couple days and not let this weekend throw me away. I have to look at the positives of the ball-striking and the putting.”
The always inspirational Erik Compton, who is still competing after two heart transplants, shot 73 to finish in a tie for 20th at 276. Compton received a sponsors’ exemption after struggling on the Korn Ferry Tour the past six years trying to regain his PGA Tour and even gave golf lessons to try to make ends meet. The 41-year-old was shooting for his first Top-10 finish in only his third PGA Tour start since the 2015 Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Fla., now known as The American Express.
Tournament officials made a classy move at 2 p.m. when there was a moment of silence and jet flyover to salute military veteran heroes who have served and died around the world through the ages. The 60-second salute was orchestrated by PGA Tour officials Slugger White and Mark Russell, who retired after the tournament after a combined 80 years of service.
The longtime buddies have been synonymous with each other and wacky rules situations that often made for gripping television. They always handled it in a classy manner as the embodiment of being “a pro’s pro.” I had numerous meetings with the duo since I began covering Connecticut’s premier sporting event in 1971, and they never failed to remember my name and spend a few moments chatting.
White’s wife, Shelley, is the sister of Danbury native and former PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions player Ken Green. Shelley often caddied for Ken, including in the 1986 Masters when Ken had a share of the first-round lead with 1977 Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open champion Bill Kratzert, now an analyst for The Golf Channel.
Meanwhile, not far away in Oklahoma, Petrovic and Kelly couldn’t match the strong finish of record-setting Alex Cejka, who shot a closing 3-under 67 for an 8-under 272 and a four-stroke victory over Petrovic to become the first player on the PGA Tour Champions to win his first two major championship starts. On May 9, Cejka captured the Regions Tradition, the first major of the year on the 50-and-over circuit, when he birdied the first playoff hole to beat defending champion and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker. It was only Cejka’s third PGA Tour Champions start and earned him a full exemption for the next two seasons.
“I have no words. It’s incredible,” Cejka said. “Seeing and knowing all those names who are on the trophy and being finally on the trophy myself is a dream come true. It was a tough week. It’s a beautiful historic golf course. When I played it for the first time, I walked those fairways and remember seeing this on TV in all those years, and I can’t even describe how it feels to be here and touching the trophy. I’m just super blessed. I’m super happy. It’s an incredible feeling right now.”
Petrovic, seeking his first PGA Tour Championship win, saved par from a bunker at No. 18, the hardest hole on the course, to shoot 67 for 276 and finish one ahead of playing partner K.J. Choi (68) and Retief Goosen (66), who won the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in a playoff with 1988 Canon Sammy Davis Jr.-GHO champion Mark Brooks. Petrovic’s lone PGA Tour victory came in the 2005 Zurich Classic of New Orleans when he parred the first playoff hole to beat James Driscoll, who was born in Boston and grew up Brookline, Mass.
“I was real solid on the front and maybe a little tired on the back,” said Petrovic, who had his fifth second in a major championship. “I just hit a couple of sketchy iron shots on the back and kind of put myself behind the 8-ball. Luckily, I was able to scramble on 13, 14 and 15 and just got a bad break on 16 when my drive hit a tree and went straight backwards. But I just wasn’t sharp, though I think my best shot all day was the 2-iron on 17. I just hit a few shots that weren’t really close, but the putter bailed me out a few times, kept me in it.”
It was Petrovic’s fourth Top-6 finish this year that he attributed to hard work in the off-season that enabled him to recharge.
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