By Sam McPherson
Golf fans everywhere look to Jordan Spieth as a rising star on the PGA Tour, and rightfully so. But Sergio García, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson this weekend, was once in Spieth’s position. García rose to the challenge in the final round while Spieth faltered in the spotlight again. His win over Brooks Koepka on the first playoff hole gave the 36-year-old Spaniard his ninth PGA Tour win, tying him with all-time great Seve Ballesteros for the most in his country’s history.
García shot 63-66-68-68 to finish at 15 under for the tournament, while Spieth once again struggled on Sunday. The 2015 Masters and U.S. Open champion shot a 74 in the final round to remove himself from contention and finish at 10-under par. Meanwhile, Koepka shot a final-round 71 on the par-70 course to reach the playoff with García. But Koepka’s double bogey on the first extra hole meant Sergio’s par was good enough to win the tournament for the second time in his career (2004). Matt Kuchar finished alone in third at 14 under, shooting a 69 on Sunday.
With the victory, García earned $1.314 million and his first PGA Tour win since 2012, when he won the Wyndham Championship. The TPC Four Seasons Resort course gave golfers the opportunity for a lot of low scores, as no player making the cut and finishing the tournament scored over par. Several golfers shot all four rounds in the 60s, including García, Kuchar and fourth-place finishers Spencer Levin and Tim Wilkinson. Of course, Spieth could’ve joined them after shooting 64-65-67 in the first three rounds, but his Sunday score dropped him into a tie for 18th place.
Five of García’s PGA wins have come in playoffs, including his 2004 victory in this event. He now has just two PGA Tour wins since 2008 and three since 2005. For a golfer everyone expected to collect majors throughout his career, García has struggled as he’s aged. No longer the wide-eyed, excitable teenager everyone saw at the 1999 PGA Championship, García shows the grind that professional golf can be on even the world’s best players.
Spieth may be learning that lesson early in his career. Ranked No. 2 in the world, he has struggled in his last three tournaments, somewhat. He lost a five-stroke lead on Sunday at the Masters and missed the cut last week at The Players Championship. And now he’s failed to close out a win in his hometown tournament. Spieth will face even more pressure and scrutiny, until he grabs another tournament trophy. That may seem unfair to one of the best players in the world, but since the Tiger Woods era, golf experts and fans have high expectations for players to close on Sunday.
Both Koepka and Spieth — the final pairing on Sunday — struggled to finish the tournament strong, giving García the final-round window he needed. García, of course, knows Tour heartbreak all too well: the Spaniard has lost six playoffs in his career, including the Tour Championship twice (2001, 2008), the British Open (2007) and The Players Championship (2015). And let’s not forget the battle with Woods in that famous 1999 PGA Championship. García did, however, win The Players in 2008 on the first playoff hole.
With just three tournaments left on the PGA Tour schedule before the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, every top golfer in the game is sharpening their skills. Some concerns surround Spieth, less so for top-ranked Jason Day and No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who won the Ireland Open yesterday in his native country. García and everyone else is chasing those three.
Next On The Tee: Dean & DeLuca Invitational
The PGA Tour stays in Texas this week, heading to Fort Worth and Colonial Country Club for the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. With an overall purse of $6.7 million and a $1.206 million winner’s check, it’s a big target for many of the lesser-known golfers on the Tour. Chris Kirk, the defending champion, is back to defend his title against former winners Adam Scott (2014), Boo Weekley (2013), Zach Johnson (2010, 2012) and David Toms (2011). García will not be in the field, however, although Spieth will tee it up, looking to right some wrongs from last weekend.
Other notable participants this week include 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, fan favorite Colt “Big Gravy” Knost, who is coming off two straight top-four finishes, and Kuchar, owner two straight top-three finishes. Day and McIlroy will not be playing.
The Colonial Country Club was founded in the 1930s and hosted the 1941 U.S. Open and the 1991 Women’s U.S. Open. John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell designed the course, which has been lengthened by about 200 yards since that first major. The circuit opens with a par-5, giving players the chance to get a quick jump on the course, though there are no par-5s over the final seven holes. The course record is 61, held by six different men, including two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and one-time British Open champion Justin Leonard.
The Colonial Country Club course plays 7,204 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth
Players to Watch: Chris Kirk, Colt Knost, Boo Weekley
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS, and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.