Jan
21
2013
Humana Challenge Sunday tidbits: Gay prevails in desert shoot-out
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
Gay has his eye on the prize...

Gay has his eye on the prize…

I probably shouldn’t admit what I’m about to say, but it’ll give you an idea of just how glamorous my life on tour is. On Saturday evening at dinner a few friends and I were chatting about golf (what else? /eyeroll) and we were guessing what 54-hole leader Scott Stallings had to shoot or the other guys that we thought had a shot at catching him.

See, thing is, a five-shot lead at the Palmer Private isn’t much of a lead. There were tons of guys who were in range to catch him– with some help from Stallings — because you have to assume at least one or two guys will shoot a 62 and/or 63. One friend said, “Four-under. Scott needs to shoot four-under to guarantee a victory.” I agreed.

And he was right.

(I even thought someone as far back as eight shots could potentially come back. 36-hole co-leader James Hahn, who fell off the leaderboard after a third-round even par 72, almost pulled it off, firing a ten-under 62 to launch him into a tie for fourth.)

Stallings, who missed the three-way playoff by one after dunking a shot on the 72nd hole, posted a final-round two-under 70 on Sunday at the Humana Challenge.

After a fortuitous drop by the 18th green, Stallings had to get up-and-down for par to get into the playoff at 25-under with Charles Howell, David Lingmerth and of course, eventual champ Brian Gay.

Zach Johnson, who has served as one of Stallings’ unofficial mentors, Blake Adams, William McGirt and Richard H. Lee were standing behind the green while Stallings was playing the 18th. It’s rare to see players stick around and root for their buddy, so it’s always nice when that happens — says a lot about both parties. (Stark contrast from the LPGA, where a bunch of girls always hang around and drench the champ with champagne or water.)

I asked Blake, that should be a pretty straightforward chip, right? He paused, smiled and said, “On a Tuesday it is.”

Yep, not on Sunday when it actually means something and under real pressure. Even though Stallings has been in those situations before and proven he can handle them, it doesn’t get that much easier. In fact, if you don’t feel nerves at all, then something is probably wrong.

Stallings, whose wife Jen is ready to give birth to their first child in a week or two, missed his eight-footer to save par, and had no one to blame but himself.

“I felt great,” said Scott, referring to the approach shot he pulled in the water on the 18th. “There wasn’t any nerves or anything like that going into it. Just hit a bad shot. Same thing that happened on 14. Felt like I made a good swing, just ball came off a little right and got a bad kick and went in the water.

“But it is what it is. Coming down the stretch on the 72nd hole, you can’t make mistakes like that. And it stinks, but it’s something that I’ll definitely learn from.”

He was obviously upset, but he handled it with poise.

“I shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” he said, speaking about where he took a drop. “I know that. Everyone knows that.”

Well, yeah, it wasn’t the best place to miss, I guess, but it happens.

“Anyone who thinks they’re going to run away with it is fooling themselves,” he said. “I never ever once said I was running away with it. I was very fortunate to have a very big lead.

“I played good for three days and it’s kind of weird in this kind of marathon, low-round tournament, you’re going to kind of catch a skid here and there. And the person that survives the best, wins. And unfortunately, I just hit a bad shot.”

After the media scrum, Scott was greeted by Zach Johnson, who gave him a friendly hug.

“I’m proud of you, brother,” said Zach.

**********

Brian Gay played the two extra holes like a champ, posting birdies on both, to best rookie David Lingmerth and ATM-machine Charles Howell III. Gay birdied nine of his first 13 holes and then finished with five straight pars to fire 63 in the final round.

Gay, who now has four-career victories, started Sunday six strokes behind Stallings.

“The thoughts were just be aggressive, shoot as low as you can,” said Gay in his post-win press conference. “I knew Scott was five ahead. It was going to be, even with a great round, a really low round, it would be tough to catch him, if at all.

“I played great on the front, just tried to stay aggressive and shoot low.”

Gay felt like this win was a second-coming for him after struggling (to his standards) last season due to a swing change and new instructor. He made about $960,000 in earnings in 2012, which was the first time he had made under a million since 2005.

Gay has never been known for his length off the tee (elatively speaking), so because the PGA Tour venues favor power-hitters, he felt the need to hit it farther. He said he’s gained about 10- to- 15-yards in distance since he started working with instructor Grant Waite.

“Just over a year ago I went to Grant and my whole game’s been about accuracy and short game, and I’ve always been a short hitter on the Tour and I felt like I was getting older,” said Gay. I’m only going to get shorter and shorter. So I kind of went to Grant initially to get his thoughts and to work on some stuff to try to hit the tee ball farther. Thought it would help my game.

“And it was tough last year trying to play making those changes. I feel like it’s coming around. It’s helped me a lot and just was trying to get more efficient with my driver numbers to kind of max out my distance.”

The 41-year-old veteran has relied on his excellent putting to a solid career — he’s earned approximately $15.8 million on the golf course.

Gay, who always seems calm and composed, looked a little nervous after he posted his round, especially since he felt like he gave one back by parring the 72nd hole.

“Yeah, it was a roller coaster,” said Gay, referring to the waiting game. “When I first finished, there was four guys on the same score. I didn’t know who was done, who was still out. And then Scott and Charles are long hitters, I knew they had a mid iron into 18. I figured at least one, if not both of them, would birdie 18.

“So I was fortunate for that not to happen and have another chance. And boom, there we go. And just felt like I kind of had a second life, another opportunity.”

Turned out Brian had a second chance and he birdied no. 18, the first playoff hole. Howell hit a beautiful approach to about 25 feet, but missed the eagle putt. Lingmerth, a rookie, dunked it in the water and was eliminated after Howell and Gay both parred.

On the second extra hole, the par-4 10th, Gay knocked it to about six feet and made the putt for birdie, while Howell bogeyed.

By the way, in case you were wondering, his caddie Kip Henley was wearing what he calls a “vucket.”

Congrats to Kip and Brian!

**********

James Hahn rebounded from his even-par 72 in the third round and posted a ten-under 62 to jump up the leaderboard and finish tied for fourth. During my conversation with him, I think, like 5 people, stopped to congratulate James and tell him he was in fifth place (at the time). He was aware and beyond ecstatic. He stuck around and spoke to the press for almost an hour (gotta love the rookies).

Hahn took home his biggest paycheck of his career — around $350,000. It was kind of unfathomable for Hahn, who remembers a time when he had $271 dollars in his bank account.

He isn’t planning on splurging on anything, rather proceed cautiously and save for a nice watch or something in the off-season.

“I can wait to buy a nice car or watch.”

The top-5 finish puts him in a good place at the start of the season and carry the momentum — especially since it’s super important for the rookies in the shortened 2013 schedule. He also won’t have to stress over coupons for hotels and spending an hour on Priceline trying to save $S20 bucks here and there. Instead he can spend that time practicing putting or working on his game.

James even shared a great tip with me for next week in San Diego.

“Del Mar, $70 for Holiday Inn on Priceline,” he said. “It’s really nice. It’s a 2 1/2 stars.”

(Thanks!)

Oh yeah, you may have heard his nickname is “The Asian Brad Pitt.” The origin? Well, it dates back to a Travis Mathew photo shoot in the Palm Springs area in December 2011, the day after Q-school finals that year. Travis Brasher, one of TM’s co-owners, and fellow TM ambassador and player John Mallinger decided James needed a nickname and they thought “The Asian Brad Pitt” was fitting. Word got to Peter Tomasulo, who told Paul Claxton, who apparently told everyone. Got that?

Then, when James was speaking to a reporter in Knoxville at a Web.com Tour event last year, Claxton walked by and said, “You know what they call him? They call him the Asian Brad Pitt.”

The newspaper printed it and that was that — it stuck.

**********

I can’t wait for Phil’s press conference! See you in San Diego.

Oh, I regret to inform those who care that I won’t be at the PGA Show in Orlando next week. I’ve been the past two years, and I’ve always wanted to cover the tourney at Torrey Pines because of sentimental reasons — Junior World was held there every year and it was my favorite tournament, so by default, it’s one of my favorite courses.

Update: Check out Forbes’ take on Phil and his tax crisis. Here’s an excerpt, but worth reading the full article:

To be honest, it’s hard to blame Mickelson – who has compiled a net worth approaching $180 million by repeatedly striking a tiny white ball until it falls into a hole — for putting all options on the table, which according to some, include the possibility of prematurely shutting down his career to avoid his rising tax burden. Let’s take a look at what Mickelson is up against in 2013:

For starters, courtesy of President Obama’s re-election and the subsequent fiscal cliff negotiations, Mickelson will experience an increase in his top tax rate on ordinary income from 35% to 39.6%, and an increase in his top rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends from 15% to 20%. Clearly, when faced with tax hikes of that magnitude, it stops making economic sense for Mickelson to continue to swing a metal stick up to 70 times a day in exchange for the $48 million he earns on an annual basis.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)