JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Heath Slocum might have been the one player no one expected to win The Barclays.
He was locked in a tense battle over the final hour Sunday at Liberty National with some of the biggest names in golf – Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els.
Even more incredible is that a week ago, Slocum was not even sure he would make it to the opening event of the PGA Tour Playoffs. Having missed the cut, he had to wait until the tournament was over to learn that by the slimmest of margins – two points – he was the No. 124 seed out of the 125 players who qualified.
“My fate was not in my own hands,” Slocum said.
He had his hands around that putter on the 18th green, however, and delivered the biggest shot of his life.
On the same green where Woods stunned the crowd by missing from 7 feet, Slocum knocked in a 20-foot par for a one-shot victory at The Barclays to get this FedEx Cup bonanza off to a compelling start.
Slocum closed with a 4-under 67 to win for the third time in his career, and first time in four years. The victory, worth $1.35 million, moved him from No. 124 to No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings, giving him a shot at the $10 million prize next month in Atlanta.
“It was an incredible day, incredible experience,” Slocum said. “I was just kind of lucky to come out on top. A lot of good players. At the end of the day, that putt on the last was magical. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
It was another finish Woods would like to forget.
In his first tournament since losing a two-shot lead to unheralded Y.E. Yang in the PGA Championship, the putter again cost Woods a chance to win – not only the final round, but all week on greens he could never trust.
Woods rimmed out a 3-foot par putt early in the round. He twice missed from inside 10 feet on par 5s. And after another clutch shot on the 18th hole, this one a 6-iron from 189 yards to 7 feet with a chance to tie for the lead, the birdie putt slid by on the left.
“It happens,” said Woods, who shot a 67. “Not too many golf courses that you misread putts that badly. This golf course is one.”
The drama unfolded even after some of the stars had left the course.
Els finished his bogey-free 66 and had his clubs in the trunk of his car when he heard the loud cheer from the 18th green after Woods stuffed his 6-iron close. Then came a groan after the missed putt. Els had his golf shoes in a plastic bag when he was told that Slocum and Stricker, tied for the lead at 9 under had driven into fairway bunkers on the 18th. He quickly changed shoes and headed to the range.
Stricker caught the lip of the bunker, which left him short of the green, and hit wedge to 10 feet. Slocum also came up short, as did his wedge, leaving him 20 feet from the top of the ridge.
Slocum raised both arms in the air when his par putt broke gently back to the left and disappeared into the cup. Stricker’s putt to force a two-way playoff caught the left lip of the cup.
In the third year of these playoffs, the FedEx Cup finally has a winner that resembles a real underdog.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Slocum said. “I was sweating it out last week. I didn’t even know if I’d be here. I came in here with the attitude that I had nothing to lose.”
He turned into a huge winner.
Slocum, who came into The Barclays at No. 197 in the world ranking, finished at 9-under 275 for the biggest win of his career. His other two victories were opposite-field events, when the best players in the world were competing elsewhere.
He faced an All-Star cast across the Hudson River from Manhattan, and Slocum shined.
The 35-year-old knocked in a 25-foot birdie at No. 2, the toughest par 3 at Liberty National, then surged into a share of the lead by holing out from 157 yards with a 7-iron for eagle on No. 5. He was steady the rest of the way, especially on the 18th.
“Anybody here in this field has the potential to win the tournament,” Stricker said. “Heath is a very steady player. He’s a very good player. I don’t think we should be surprised that he won.”
The surprise came from Woods.
The world’s No. 1 player was lurking most of the day, unable to get any traction while missing so many putts. A 3-footer for par rimmed around the cup at No. 4, and he failed to convert birdie putts on two of the par 5s from inside 10 feet.
Down the stretch, everything changed.
He made a 10-foot birdie on the 14th, saved par with a 15-foot putt on the next hole, and got in range with pitch to 2 feet for birdie on the 16th. And with everything riding on one shot, he nailed his 6-iron to birdie range.
Any other week, any other course, Woods making that putt was practically a given.
This one never had a chance.
“Usually, he makes it,” Slocum said. “Ho-hum for him. I guess you can’t make ’em all.”
Els played bogey-free and pulled into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the par-3 14th. He might have been hurt using a new driver, after discovering a crack in his other one on Saturday. Els felt his tee shots were getting away to the right, and he didn’t want to risk such a mistake on the par-4 16th, which played only 287 yards in the final round. He laid up and made par.
“From where I’ve come from, where my game has been, where my confidence has been, this is moving in the right direction,” said Els, who has not won since March 2008 at the Honda Classic.
Harrington continued his solid form, getting into the mix for the third straight tournament. He finished with four birdies over the final seven holes, making a long birdie at the 18th.
The final round featured endless possibilities, except for the guys atop the leaderboard.
Steve Marino and Paul Goydos, tied for the lead at 9 under to start the final round, and Webb Simpson and Fredrik Jacobson, both two shots behind, combined to go 11-over par. Marino shot 77, while Goydos made only one birdie in his round of 75.