MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Justin Leonard hasn’t played in the Ryder Cup since 1999, when his 45-foot putt on the 17th hole at Brookline clinched the largest comeback in the history of the event. He’s doing everything he can to make sure he’s a lock for this year’s team.
Leonard pulled out a win in the Stanford St. Jude Championship over Robert Allenby and Trevor Immelman, holing a 19-footer for birdie on the second hole of a sudden death playoff Sunday. With the $1.08 million check and his fifth Top 10, Leonard now ranks fifth in the Ryder Cup standings.
“I don’t know how much of a lock I am, but I feel pretty good about making it. I’m looking forward to being on that team, and I’m looking forward to us winning again soon,” Leonard said.
Strangers ask Leonard about that amazing putt more than they ask him about his 1997 British Open title. He even heard about it a couple times Sunday as he won his 12th PGA Tour title, his second at this event and first since the 2007 Valero Texas Open.
“It’s probably 95 percent more as Ryder Cup,” Leonard said.
Leonard didn’t spend much time thinking about the Ryder Cup on Sunday, not when he was one of 10 who shared a piece of the lead at one point with the temperature feeling hotter than 100 degrees at a TPC at Southwind course. This last U.S. Open tuneup featured only 12 players who finished under par.
Not that Leonard wanted to get ahead of himself.
“I did a good job of that. And you know it’s very nice to come out on top. … This puts me in great position to make the Ryder Cup team. For the last nine years, I’ve been looking forward to one,” Leonard said.
Before he could talk Ryder Cup, Leonard had to finish winning this tournament for the second time since 2005. He had a one-stroke lead after a birdie on No. 15 and settled for par on the par-5 No. 16th before hitting his tee shot into the right rough on No. 17, forcing him to chip out. He missed his par putt.
On No. 18, Leonard still had a chance to win without a playoff. He stuck an iron from 176 yards to 13 feet and rolled a nice putt that missed just left of the hole.
Allenby had finished up about two hours before the final group with a 65.
Immelman birdied the final three holes, the last a 23-footer the Masters champ celebrated with a fist pump. The trio finished at 4-under 276, the highest 72-hole total since this event moved to the TPC at Southwind course in 1989.
The trio headed back to No. 18 where Leonard came the closest to a birdie that would have given him the win. On the second playoff hole, the par-3, 150-yard No. 11, Allenby went first and missed a 20-footer. Leonard stroked in his putt next, the ball slowing near the cup before falling in.
Immelman had the shortest putt at 11 feet to push the playoff to a third hole in search of his second win in eight weeks but just missed.
“I thought I hit a pretty good putt,” Immelman said. “It just didn’t turn at all, finished right behind the hole unfortunately. But Justin made a great putt. Birdie to win is pretty nice.”
Allenby said he thought his streak in playoffs had to come to an end sometime.
“I lost to a good putt. There’s no bad thoughts about that,” he said.
Sergio Garcia (66), Padraig Harrington (68), Boo Weekley (68) and Alex Cejka (70) tied for fourth at 3 under.
Gavin Coles, the Australian whose only win this year was on the Nationwide Tour’s Louisiana Open, was the last player with a chance to win in 72 holes if he birdied the 18th.
He sent his tee shot into the right rough, his second into a greenside bunker and blasted out over the green into the rough. He couldn’t hole his chip to get into the playoff, then double bogeyed for a 71 and a 278 total that left him tied for eighth with Tom Pernice, who carded the best round at 63, and Scott Verplank (68).
“It was like a train wreck,” Coles said.
Nobody has won the week before the Open and followed up by winning the second major of the year. Leonard finished fifth at Torrey Pines in January and plans to rest up before heading over.
“I’m looking forward to getting back there and playing the Open and hopefully playing a little bit firmer conditions,” Leonard said.
Divots: Leonard is the fifth multiple winner in Memphis, joining Dave Hill (four), Lee Trevino (three), Nick Price (two) and David Toms (two). … Leonard is 2-4 in playoffs, while Immelman is 0-2. Allenby is 10-1 worldwide in playoffs. … Webb Simpson, making his first pro start on a sponsor’s exemption, made the cut and finished tied for 64th. He won $12,660. … Vijay Singh had a share of the lead at one point. He finished tied for 11th after shooting 71.