A whopping seven golfers withdrew during the Valero Texas Open, citing injury or illness, most notably Phil Mickelson. For the rest of us who made it to Sunday, it was a painful and slow slog through the final round. Accent on the painful. And the slow.
With pace of play again coming to the fore, along with a two-club wind and a penal TPC San Antonio, it was more a case of who would lose least as opposed to who would win most. And as the unlikeliest of PGA Tour seasons continues, another unlikely champion emerged.
Thirty-year-old Australian Steven Bowditch, with all of two top-10s in his eight-year PGA Tour career, survived a closing 4-over 76 to be golf's latest Last Man Standing. The last winner to shoot such a high closing score was Vijay Singh (4-over 76) a decade ago in the PGA Championship, and in a non-major, you have to go all the way back to Fred Couples in the 1983 Kemper Open (5-over 77).
In the latest installment of a season in which Mickelson and Tiger Woods have combined for more withdrawals, three, than wins, zero, another little-known golfer emerged victorious after a big name wilted. On Sunday, it was Matt Kuchar, tied for the lead with Bowditch at the turn, who faded with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch. That followed Adam Scott's implosion last week at Bay Hill, paving the way for Matt Every. And the Florida Swing got under way with Rory McIlroy's collapse opening the door for Russell Henley.
The difference here was that Bowditch entered the final round with the lead. But that's not all that set Bowditch apart. He is a remarkable story, a person who has overcome great hardship in his life, battling clinical depression. He attempted suicide in 2006. That's one reason why the way in which Bowditch won doesn't really matter. He missed a three-footer for par on 18, necessitating a 76th stroke. That was his fourth bogey, plus he had a double, to go along with two birdies. His 8-under 280 total allowed him to hold off surging Will MacKenzie and Daniel Summerhays by a shot.
With all that Bowditch faced on Sunday, his playing partners were just one more impediment. Both Kuchar and rookie Andrew Loupe were put on the clock, along with at least three other golfers, as slow play becomes more and more prominent. The front nine for the final trio took slightly longer than Sunday's Dodgers-Padres game (2:49).
Bowditch, who entered the week No. 339 in the world, qualified for the Masters, which now has 97 golfers in its field.
MacKenzie hasn't won in six years, and he won't be in the Masters, but an argument can be made that he's the best player around now. By tying for second, MacKenzie has finished in the top 6 three of the last four weeks, and he has five top-10s in 13 starts. MacKenzie was one of only four golfers to shoot par or better in all four rounds (Summerhays, Jerry Kelly and Zach Johnson). He's 11th in the FedEx Cup standings.
Na has been almost as spectacular as MacKenzie in the recent going. His T11 in Texas was his fourth top-15 showing in the last five weeks, including a solo second and solo fourth. And if not for a two-stroke penalty for testing the sand leading to a triple bogey on No. 5, Na would've had another top-10. For all the talk of Na's slow play, when officials were handing out warnings all over the place on Sunday, none went to him.
The rookie is on quite a roll, and that's saying something for a golfer who makes Na look like Usain Bolt. Despite being put on the clock, Loupe tied for fourth, the third successive tournament in which he posted a career-best outcome. Loupe was T27 at Pebble Beach and T12 at the Puerto Rico Open. The top-10 gives him a spot in this week's Shell Houston Open.
It's about this time of year that the azaleas bloom at Augusta. Same for Johnson. The 2007 Masters champ quietly finished tied for sixth in Texas, moving to seventh in the FedEx Cup point standings and tuning up splendidly for the year's first major, which will be his next start. Johnson will be among the favorites.
Walker hasn't played that much golf since winning for the third time this season in early February. This was only his third stroke-play event since capturing Pebble Beach and, while he hasn't contended, he's still playing decent golf. After making the cut on the number, Walker's T16 in Texas made it three top-25s in his three events since Pebble. He's in the field for the Shell Houston Open in advance of his first Masters.
The fading veteran entered the week having made only four of nine cuts, and with only four rounds of competition in six weeks (two missed cuts). But he overcame an opening 74 and a closing 73 with twin 69s in the second and third rounds to tie for 11th, his first top-25 of the season. Ogilvy stands 138th in the point standings and will not be in the Masters, unless he wins this week in Houston.
With his second WD of the year, this time with an oblique injury, Mickelson's dismal season continues. In eight events, he doesn't have so much as a top-10. Mickelson is still listed in the Houston field, but you can be sure he'll sit that one out if he needs more recuperative time for Augusta. Despite all his magic through the years, it's hard to see Mickelson contending at the Masters this year.
Koepka was playing on his seventh and final sponsor exemption of the season, bidding to qualify for Special Temporary Membership that would give him playing privileges for the rest of 2013-14. But needing to finish no worse than 32nd to accrue 39 non-member FedEx Cup points, Koepka tied for 36th, commanding only 32.5 points. This being his eighth event overall, he now can play in only four more, plus The Players Championship. Inside the top 100 in the OWGR, if he stays there he likely would receive a special invitation to the PGA Championship, too.
Chesson Hadley and Ryan Palmer
With a chance of qualify for the Masters by climbing into the OWGR top 50, the pressure seemingly got to both golfers. Needing to finish sixth or better, Hadley plummeted to an 8-over 80 to tie for 56th. Hadley is a rookie, albeit a good one. But Palmer is a steady veteran. Needing a top-3, he ballooned to 82 to match Hadley's four-day total. Palmer, however, may have been injured, as he called for a trainer on the fifth hole (hip). Palmer is in the published field for the Shell Houston Open, now needing a win to gain entry to Augusta. Hadley is sitting this week out.