HARTFORD, Conn. – The University of Hartford golf program has certainly received lots of attention the past few weeks.
Jerry Kelly got plenty of air time as he made his first hole-in-one on the PGA Tour Champions in the final round of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship at famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, en route to his first major title and 10th overall in more than 20 years on the two leading circuits in the country.
Then on Wednesday, Kelly’s former U of H teammate, Glastonbury native Tim Petrovic, also got loads of exposure and would have made it two victories in a row for former Hawks if not for some phenomenal play by some guy named Phil Mickelson.
Petrovic closed with a 5-under-par 66 for a 54-hole total of 18-under 195 that normally would have won at the Bass Pro Shops Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo. But Mickelson finished four lower as the World Golf Hall of Famer went wire-to-wire in becoming the 20th player to win his PGA Tour Champions debut in the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National.
Petrovic and the rest of the field seemingly stood little chance of reaching the winner’s circle after Mickelson arrived an hour before his first round, reviewed a few Champions rules with officials and then went out and made a staggering 11 birdies and a bogey on a par-5 in an opening 61 that gave him a one-stroke lead and put him three ahead of Petrovic.
A second-round 64 solidified Mickelson’s spot at the top, and a closing 66 for a 22-under total gave him victory No. 1 on the 50-and-over circuit to go with 44 PGA Tour wins, including being the only back-to-back winner in the history of the Travelers Championship in the then-Canon Greater Hartford Open in 2001-02. Mickelson turned 50 on June 16 and plans to take 10 days off before heading to the Safeway Open in his native California for his final preparation for the postponed U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
“I wasn’t as sharp the back nine,” said Mickelson, who played in the final group with Petrovic and Rod Pampling (72-201, tied for 11th). “I got off to a good start, though, fortunately had built enough cushion. … I really enjoyed playing here, enjoyed seeing all the guys again, seeing how they were so accommodating and fun. It’s fun for me to compete. I got to shoot (low) scores, and it was good to get off to a good start. There was a lot of good, and there were things I identified I’ve got to work on.”
Petrovic, 54, won several state and New England titles before going to the University of Hartford and notched his only PGA Tour victory in the 2005 Zurich Classic of New Orleans when he parred the first playoff hole to beat Boston native James Driscoll. Petrovic had six birdies and a lone bogey at the 18th hole on Wednesday, but he knew he had little chance to win against one of the best and most popular players in the history of the game.
“You know, sometimes you just run into a buzz saw,” said Petrovic, who ran a Pizza Hut franchise in Florida while bouncing around mini-tours before qualifying for the PGA Tour. “I ran into a Phil buzz saw this week because he made a lot of birdies. I think (Tuesday) I shot 31 on the front (nine) and don’t think I picked up a shot, maybe one. Today I got it going again on the front and we were almost laughing. When he was on the front, he drove that par-4 (fifth hole) — you know, he said it’s like 340 (yards) in the air to make eagle. We’re like: ‘OK, all right. That’s enough.’ ”
Mickelson’s PGA Tour Champions’ debut was possible because he missed the cut Friday in The Northern Trust, the first of three events in the FedExCup playoffs at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. That assured he would miss this week’s BMW Championship in Chicago for the first time since the playoffs began in 2007, but he made the most of his first venture on the Champions Tour. Three weeks ago, Jim Furyk, who shot a PGA Tour-record 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship, won his PGA Tour Champions debut in The Ally Challenge after he turned 50 in May.
“It was a good course for me,” Mickelson said, noting Ozarks National’s relatively wide fairways allowed him to exploit a length advantage that was often immense. He will now try to emulate two of his elders, Fred Funk and Craig Stadler, both of whom won on the PGA Tour after winning on PGA Tour Champions.
“Confidence no matter where it comes from is always good,” Funk texted from Ozarks National, where he shot a final-round 72 to finish 4 over and well back.
Stadler won the 2003 B.C. Open, his last of 13 PGA Tour titles, a week after he captured the Ford Senior Players Championship. Funk, also 50, took a break from PGA Tour Champions to win the 2007 Mayakoba Golf Classic, the last of his eight PGA Tour victories.
Mickelson is expected to play sparingly on the Champions Tour, at least for now. He believes he is still plenty competitive on the PGA Tour, and the facts back him up. He tied for second at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational earlier this month. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year, and the WGC-Mexico Championship the year before that. So he’ll continue to play on the PGA Tour.
Mickelson will be talked about and written about even more than usual in the coming months. He plans to play in the first tournament of the new PGA Tour season, the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., in two weeks, and then it’s back to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., where he double-bogeyed the 72nd hole in 2006, giving the title to Geoff Ogilvy and later saying, “I am just so stupid.” It was one of a record six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, which Mickelson needs to win to become the sixth player to achieve the career Grand Slam.
Meanwhile, Kelly and Rhode Island natives Billy Andrade and Brett Quigley each shot 210 to finish in a tie for 53rd in Missouri. Brad Faxon, another Rhode Island native whose last of eight PGA Tour titles came in the 2005 Buick (now Travelers) Championship, tied for 82nd at 222.