Sang-Moon Bae captured the PGA Tour’s 2014-15 season-opener, the Frys.com Open, by two shots over Steven Bowditch, posting a 15-under total at Silverado’s North Course. (He also leads in FedExCup points!!!)
Bae, who secured his first-career victory at the 2013 Byron Nelson Championship, started his campaign for his second win heading into the final round with a commanding four-shot lead. He extended it to as many as six strokes throughout the round, but a bogey on no. 8 led to a shaky stretch of holes — he bogeyed four of the next seven, though he balanced it out with two birdies.
“I think I was a little nervous,” said Bae. “I don’t know why, I didn’t want to look at the scoreboard, but I did. I looked a lot. That’s why I made a lot of bogeys on the back nine.”
Going into the final three holes, which includes two reachable par-5s, he stood at 15-under, with a two-shot lead over Bowditch, who was sitting safely near the clubhouse.
On the par-5 16th, Bae made a critical mistake with his approach after laying up to 100 yards and knocked it over the green. However, he recovered with a nice chip to 2.5 feet and saved par — which was a crucial turning point in the tournament.
“I think it was the hardest chip shot on Sunday,” said Bae in his post-win presser. “It was really, really good up-and-down. If I made bogey that hole, I think I lose focus next hole, but I hit it really good from off the green.”
Next, Bae knocked his approach over the green once again to a similar position as he was in on the previous hole. He hit another good chip to about three feet and holed it to save par.
Bae now entered the final hole with a two-shot lead. He piped a drive down the middle and then hit a fairway wood to the back fringe of the green. Left with about 30 feet for eagle, Bae rolled it six feet past the hole and missed the comeback for birdie, settling with a par to shoot a one-over 73 and a comfortable two-shot victory.
He had mixed emotions coming down the stretch.
“I was a little nervous, happy and excited and everything,” said the 28-year-old from South Korea. “I think my swing was really, really good this week, so that’s why I played good.”
Bae had lost some faith in his game after he struggled last season, missing 11 cuts. His best finish since winning the 2013 AT&T Byron Nelson Championship was a tie for 12th at the 2014 Northern Trust Open.
“It really means a lot,” said Bae. “It’s the first tournament, and I couldn’t play well last season. But I have a lot of confidence now. I could play well, a lot more than last season.”
Bae wasn’t even thinking about a win going into the event.
“My goal was top 10″ he said. “It was the first tournament. I didn’t think about a win because I didn’t play the last two months after Barclays. Actually I didn’t play well last season, also, so I worked hard between Barclays and this tournament.”
Meanwhile, Bowditch took advantage of his distance and the gettable par-5s in two of the last three holes to give himself a chance and put some added pressure on Bae. On no. 16, the Australian hit a good drive down the left side and then knocked a nice 4-iron to 35 feet. He rolled in the putt for eagle.
“All weekend I’ve been putting pretty good, and I saw the line on that one and it went in, so that was nice,” said Bowditch after posting a five-under 67.
On the par-5 18th, Bowditch found the fairway off the tee and then left himself with a 10-footer for birdie, which he drained to get to 13-under for the tournament.
Bowditch, who started the day eight shots off the pace, was pleased with his start to the new season.
“It’s nice,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like the year has ended quite, but it’s nice to get off to a good start for the FedExCup for 2015.”
Bryce Molder, Hideki Matsuyama, Retief Goosen, Hunter Mahan and Martin Laird all finished at 12-under to finish tied for third.
The tougher conditions on Sunday played a massive factor for the players chasing.
“It was playing harder today,” said Laird. “We finally had some firm greens. You missed the fairway and it was hard to hold some of the greens never mind get it close coming out of the rough. The rough dried out, a couple flier lies. It was definitely playing harder. Greens got a little faster, typical kind of browned up poa annua.”
Laird, who was one of Bae’s closer contenders starting the final round with a five-shot deficit, was despondent following his finish after failing to take advantage of the last few par-5s.
“This is as disappointing as I’ve been coming around in a while, three three-putts and 4-iron and 5-wood into two par-5s on the last three holes and make par on those two,” said Laird, who shot a one-under 71 in the final round. “I really felt like I had a chance to catch him today, and as I said, even with three holes to go. I’m going to take a couple days to get over this one, I think.”