Potter Prevails in AT&T; Back Nine Par-5's Cost Merritt $300,000
February 11, 2018
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- There was a slightly surreal quality to Ted Potter's victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday.
Potter came into the tournament No. 246 in the World Rankings. In the final round, he was paired with Dustin Johnson, the World No. 1 and a two-time winner at Pebble Beach, who was outdriving Potter by an average of roughly 40 yards on every hole that wasn't a par-3.
Also in contention were Phil Mickelson, a four-time winner of the AT&T crown, and Jason Day, a former World No. 1 who was coming off a victory in his most recent event (the Farmers Insurance Open). Not to mention Chez Reavie, who has played better than anyone else on the PGA Tour so far in February. (He finished second last week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, losing in a playoff against Gary Woodland.)
And yet it was Potter who outplayed them all. He bogeyed his last two holes Saturday in a 62 at Monterey Peninsula, and he three-putted the first hole at Pebble Beach on Sunday. So that, basically, was three bogeys in a row. But he played the next six holes in 4 under par, and then rattled off 11 consecutive pars to secure his second victory on the PGA Tour -- and the $1,332,000 first-place check. He closed the deal with a 3-under 69, which gave him a 72-hole total of 270 (minus 17).
That put him three strokes clear of the four guys who tied for second -- Johnson, Day, Mickelson and Reavie.
Of those four, the only one who had a real chance of threatening Potter over the last few holes was Mickelson. His second shot at the 543-yard, par-5 18th barely missed clearing the front left greenside bunker. Had it carried another 3 or 4 feet, it would have landed in the rough and trickled onto the green, giving 47-year-old five-time major champion an excellent chance for an eagle 3, which could have put him within a stroke of Potter. As it was, Mickelson's ball caught the bunker. From there, his blast just missed the flagstick, but it ran 18 feet past the cup. He two-putted for a par and signed for a 67.
Reavie shot 68 on Sunday, on his way to 273. Day made a bizarre par at the 18th, hitting his second shot into the rocks long and left of the green (where the rocks are normally covered by water), hacking his next shot across the green and into the front bunker, and then getting up and down from there to finish with a 70. Johnson, despite his advantage over Potter off the tee, couldn't translate that into strokes gained on the scorecard. He had two birdies and two bogeys on each nine, signed for a 72 and ended the day right where he started, at 14 under.
Potter's first victory came six years ago at the Greenbrier Classic. He had missed five consecutive cuts going into that tournament. Between that victory and this one, he had only two top-10 finishes.
This is the guy who missed the cut in every one of the 24 tournaments he played in 2004, during his first season on what is now the Web.com Tour (then the Nationwide), and who was out of action for 21 months from July of 2014 to April of 2016 as a result of the broken ankle he suffered when stepping off a curb in Montreal. In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it's been," since Potter turned professional in 2002, at the age of 19.
He's missed a lot of cuts, and the top-10's he's had on the PGA Tour have been few and far between, but when he gets into contention, he doesn't back off. The 33-year-old lefty from Ocala, Fla., (Potter's actually right-handed but swings a golf club from the other side, like Mickelson) hit a lot of really good shots when it mattered on Sunday, and he made several clutch putts.
The greens at Pebble Beach were firm, downhill putts were treacherous, and there was enough wind to make players think twice about club selections. All of which made scoring difficult. No one got around the course without a bogey on Sunday, but Potter was bogey-free for the last 17 holes. Sunday's round took forever. The final group started at 9:35 a.m. Pacific Time and finished at 3:30 p.m. So there was more than enough time for Potter to think about what he was on the verge of doing -- and get nervous. But he never did. Or at least, it never showed in his game.
If Potter's triumph seemed like a fairy tale, Troy Merritt's day was something else altogether.
After being in the top five on the leaderboard all afternoon, he clanked a wedge shot at the 18th hole. The ball flaired to the right, hit a tree 30 yards short of the green -- and was never seen again. At least, not in time to spare Merritt the two-stroke penalty for a lost ball. He wound up three-putting for a triple-bogey 8 and dropped from a three-way tie for fifth into a seven-way tie for eighth.
Merritt's family moved from Idaho to Minnesota in 2000, just before he started ninth grade. They lived in Fridley, but he went to Spring Lake Park High School, where he was a star in both basketball and golf. In 2004, he helped the basketball team qualify for the state tournament for the first time, and he capped off his senior year by finising fifth in the Class AA (large-school) part of the state high school golf tournament. He was a Division II All-American in golf for Winona State two years later, in 2006. Then he transferred to Boise State and during the 2007-08 season, he won seven times -- including the last five tournaments on the regular schedule -- and led the country with a scoring average of 69.2 strokes per round. He won 21 college tournaments in all.
In 2009, Merritt became only the third player in the 40-year history of the old PGA Tour Q-School to lead the Final Stage for all six rounds. He was fully exempt for the next two years, then lost his exempt status but eventually regained it and won the Quicken Loans National in 2015.
Merritt has career earnings of more than $5.6 million, but he made only $42,415 in his first eight tournaments of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season. That put him at No. 184 on the money list, which meant that he came to Pebble Beach in need of a nice check.
And as Sunday's final round progressed, it appeared that even though he probably wasn't going to win, he might very well get a check in the $400,000-to-$500,000 range.
Having started the day tied for third at 12 under, he opened with four pars, then birdied the par-3 fifth and par-5 sixth holes and moved up into a tie for second. A series of pars kept him in contention, and at the 573-yard, par-5 14th, he hit a wedge 18 feet past the hole. Merritt just missed the birdie putt, but the ball ended up 3 feet past the cup, and he missed the par putt coming back. He had birdie chances on the next three holes, but couldn't convert any of them. Then came the disastrous triple bogey at the 18th.
For the day, he played the par-4's in even par, and he was 1 under on the par-3's. He played the front-nine par-5's in 1 under, as well -- but he played the two par-5's on the back nine in 4 over.
PGA Tour pros expect to play the par-5's in under par, but had Merritt merely played those back-nine 5's in even par, he would have made roughly $480,000. That would have moved him up into the top 60 on the money list. (The top 125 on the money list at the end of the year retain fully exempt status.) Instead, he made $185,000, and is No. 108 on the money lis with $227,415. In other words, those back-nine par-5's cost him nearly $300,000.
Potter was also in need of a nice check, and he got it. As a consequence, he moved up from No. 123 on the money list to No. 14. In addition, he will now be fully exempt until the end of the 2019-20 season, and he gets to play in The Masters.
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
At Pebble Beach Golf Links (par 72), Spyglass Hill Golf Course (par 72), Monterey Peninsula Country Club (par 71) for the first three rounds;
the final round was played entirely at Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach, Calif.
1. Ted Potter $1,332,000 68-71-62-69--270 (17 under)
T2. Dustin Johnson $488,400 67-64-70-72--273
T2. Jason Day $488,400 69-65-69-70--273
T2. Chez Reavie $488,400 67-72-66-68--273
T2. Phil Mickelson $488,400 69-65-72-67--273
6. Kevin Streelman $266,400 65-69-72-68--274
7. Scott Stallings $247,900 72-69-68-66--275
T8. Troy Merritt $185,000 67-67-69-74--277
T8. Jimmy Walker $185,000 68-69-73-67--277
T8. Kevin Chappell $185,000 73-68-69-67--277
T8. Grayson Murray $185,000 74-68-69-66--277
T8. Paul Casey $185,000 67-70-70-70--277
T8. Brian Gay $185,000 69-69-68-71--277
T8. Patrick Rodgers $185,000 70-65-69-73--277
Missed cut (212)
Tom Hoge 75-72-68--215
Tim Herron 75-74-71--220