PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico (AP) — Feeling good about the cleaned-up putting stance he brought to the Mayakoba Golf Classic, Mark Wilson spent the early part of the week trying to fix the rest of his game.
“I was searching on the range Tuesday afternoon, trying a bunch of different things that have worked in the past. Nothing felt great,” he said. “With five holes to go in the pro-am, I just thought, ‘Why don’t we take a thought of hitting it 80 percent all week?’ All of a sudden, the ball starting curving a little left, which I like. … I kind of just went from there.”
He went all the way to his second career PGA Tour victory.
Wilson grabbed the lead Friday morning and hardly let go. He was tied for first after the second and third rounds, then a birdie on the second hole Sunday put him ahead for good. He shot a final-round 68 and finished at 267, two stokes ahead of J.J. Henry.
But it wasn’t easy.
Dark clouds and wild winds made the final nine holes an adventure. Wilson went to the 13th tee box with a three-stroke lead over Henry and walked off the 14th green ahead by only one. Henry had several chances to tie, but was bedeviled by the winds, too, bogeying Nos. 16 and 17.
“Holes that we saw earlier in the week hitting 3-wood and 8-iron into, we were hitting driver and 3-wood into,” Wilson said. “It was definitely a different challenge.”
Wilson bogeyed the 16th, then parred the 17th. When his approach on No. 18 landed on the back of the green, it was time to cue the mariachis. The celebration was about to get started.
“Once I hit the 3 wood, it was just pure joy,” Wilson said. “You know, you’re so nervous and you somehow pull off one of the best shots (of the) week. It’s just pure joy and satisfaction that the hard work went in and that you didn’t get overwhelmed by the situation and hit a good shot.”
Henry also shot a 68 to finish alone in second at 269.
“(It was) extremely difficult, but it was the same for everybody,” said Henry, who still had his best finish since 2006.
Kevin Streelman, whose 64 was the low round Sunday, and Heath Slocum (67) tied for third at 270.
Bo Van Pelt, who started the day tied with Wilson, shot 79 to finish at 278 and tied for 28th.
At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, Wilson fits the mold of the previous two winners of this event, Fred Funk and Brian Gay. Like the other little guys, he tamed the 6,923-yard, par-70 El Camaleon course by keeping tee shots on the fairways and mastering the speed of the greens.
“You’ve got to be a straight driver of the golf ball. It’s that type of course,” Wilson said. “It’s not a bomber’s paradise.”
The tournament’s trophy – a stone chameleon – also isn’t suited for guys of such stature.
“I was reading that this trophy is 50 pounds. It just doesn’t look like 50 pounds,” Wilson said after lifting it for the first time. “But it’s pretty heavy. It’s not going to fly away.”
Wilson’s only previous victory was at the Honda Classic in 2007, and that took winning a four-man playoff. But that wasn’t even the biggest story that week. Wilson was on the verge of missing the cut when he took a two-stroke penalty because his caddy told another golfer in the group what club Wilson had hit on a hole, violating a rule about giving advice. Technically it’s Rule 8-1, but it’s come to be known as the Mark Wilson Rule.
He had the same caddie this week and they bumped fists afterward.
“I’m glad the focus is more on my play and not something weird that happened,” Wilson said.
Coincidentally, the Honda Classic is up next.
Wilson is looking forward to keeping up the good play he discovered this week after struggling through five previous tournaments in 2009. He missed three cuts and was an also-ran the other two times.
“I was looking at going to Honda with my worst start in my career, now it’s the best start to the year,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
To try breaking out of his slump, Wilson spent last Sunday night visiting with putting guru Kevin Weeks. The instructor immediately saw that Wilson was lining up wrong, throwing his balance out of whack. To fix it, Wilson merely had to put his right foot a few inches wider.
“I’m going to call Kevin Weeks and tell him I’ll pay him in pesos,” said Wilson, who earned $648,000 – or about 9.4 million pesos.
Also Sunday, the head of tournament sponsor OHL, Juan Miguel Villar Mir, said he’s hopeful that within two years this tournament will get its own weekend on the PGA Tour calendar, instead of being overshadowed by the Accenture Match Play Championship. He said the global economic crunch could open up a spot and his company “would take that week immediately.”
“The PGA has told us we are in line,” Villar Mir said.
At the front?
“We hope so,” he said, adding that the purse would grow from $3.6 million if more of the world’s best players were here. “We would not have a problem putting the money up if we have our own week.”