Besides Jonas Blixt’s can’t-miss-red shoes, what stood out on Sunday at the Frys.com Open was that he closed a tournament with conviction.
I took a gamble and tuned in to the Golf Channel yesterday afternoon to see if anything worth watching was happening in the second event of the last-ever “Fall Series” — due to the change in schedule from the calendar year to a fall start — and I saw a cluttered leaderboard with a handful of relative unknowns in the hunt, along with journeyman Tim Petrovic, who started the round seven shots behind 54-hole leader John Mallinger.
Given the numerous and incredible examples of gagging in the final rounds on the PGA Tour and the equally remarkable come-from-behind performances by individuals (and by teams most recently at the Ryder Cup) this season — in 42 events, only 15 winners held the 54-hole lead — I figured chances were Blixt, Jason Kokrak and Vijay Singh, among others, would wither away under pressure. After all, Blixt and Kokrak are both rookies and ’11 graduates from the Tour formerly known as the Nationwide, and Vijay is nearly 50.
In this scenario, Petrovic would win the tournament while watching from the locker room, naturally.
Thrilling! — But I kept watching because it was still up for grabs and everyone likes to see a train wreck. Wake me when someone loses.
Happily, I was wrong. Instead, I saw a gutsy performance and clutch putting from the 28 year-old rookie from Sweden, who is straightforward and cheery with a good sense of humor. But I mean, how about that short game! He’s first in strokes-gained putting (moved up from 3rd and dethroned Brandt Snedeker in this stat), first in eagles and first in sand save percentage.
Kokrak deserves an honorable mention, too –on the risk-reward driveable par-4 17th, he knocked it to about 15 feet and made the putt. The eagle wasn’t enough to hold off Blixt, who was playing in the last group, just behind Kokrak. Blixt didn’t let the roars thwart him and kept the momentum he gained from draining a big putt for birdie on the par-5 15th.
Blixt, who played college golf at Florida State University, tried to drive the green on the 17th and his ball actually went over the green. It looked like a really, really tough shot with the green sloping away from him in the long rough. Blixt hit about the best chip he could have and left himself with around 6-8 feet for birdie, and sank the putt.
When his approach into 18 hit the downslope and went from being a perfect shot with a good look for birdie to a 50-footer from across the green, I had no doubt he’d two-putt (it was in the three-putt range given the circumstances). His lag was less than perfect and left him with a longer, more yippable putt than he would have probably preferred — five-feet — but he doesn’t miss those. He had the safety net of missing and falling back to 15-under with Petrovic and Kokrak for a three-way playoff.
This was the second week in a row where Blixt played in the final tee time on Sunday. He shared a tie of the 54-hole lead with eventual champ Ryan Moore and Brendon de Jonge at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children (did I get that, right?) event in Vegas.
“You learn something every time,” said Blixt in his post-win press conference. “Last week I didn’t play very well in the final round. I got a little too cute with some shots and wasn’t aggressive enough. I told myself in the end of the day, just stay as aggressive as you can and put pressure on them. Feels pretty good when I get on the green and am competing with someone else. I’m pretty confident with my putter.”
What’s more, Jonas, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, didn’t practice after a competitive round in his last two starts because he has been hanging out with his family visiting him from Sweden.
“My family is here so it’s been really relaxed,” he said. “I’ve barely touched a golf club after a round, which is really weird for me. A lot of people would say that’s really weird.”
Yeah, but whatever works. These guys all practice so much and it’s the end of the year, so a little break is cathartic.
Oh yeah, he used to play hockey competitively in Sweden through high school — because everyone plays hockey in Sweden — but turned to focus on golf when he realized he wasn’t big enough to make the big leagues in skates.
“If you’re a guy, you want to play hockey,” said Jonas. “The tough guys play hockey, you know, the guys with no teeth.”
Well, he’s got some cojones.
(Getty Images/Robert Laberge; AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times, D. Ross Cameron) )