A field of dreams
NORTON — While Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen staged their own nail-biting finish on the 18th green of the Deutsche Bank Championship, it wasn’t the only drama that unfolded at TPC Boston.
The jockeying at the rear of the field for the right to make the cut for the next round of the PGA Tour’s playoffs proved to be just as intense as anything that played out between the leaders Monday.
Nine players entered the week ranked outside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings and played their way into this week’s BMW Championship at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind. Of course, that also meant nine were bumped, including Jonas Blixt, who was the odd man out in 71st.
Blixt, of Sweden, arrived at TPC Boston ranked 97th. On the 18th hole Monday, his birdie putt lipped out, but he still finished with a 3-under 68 to move to 6 under for the tournament — and 69th place in the standings.
“I got a glimpse [of the TV] at 15 and saw I was just outside [of the cut], and then I birdied ,’’ Blixt said. “I thought I had a pretty good chance of being inside. I still felt like I needed to make a birdie at 18.’’
Had Blixt’s birdie attempt indeed dropped, it likely would have knocked out Dicky Pride, who wound up clinching the 70th and final spot in the playoffs.
Pride entered the tournament one spot ahead of Blixt in 96th place, but climbed 26 spots by birdieing his last two holes to tie Blixt at 6-under 278.
Nervous about making the cut, Pride turned to his caddie just before he chipped up to the 18th green and asked, “Do I need to make this?’’
“No, let’s just play,’’ was the reply. “Let’s just play golf.’’
Pride responded with a chip from 63 feet away to 1 foot 4 inches of the cup and a birdie.
“I was desperately trying not to look at the scoreboard,’’ said Pride, who hails from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and is a huge University of Alabama football fan. “I was doing the Nick Saban. I was trying to get into the process of the shots I was trying to hit and execute those, and I hope Coach Saban would have been proud.’’
Chris Kirk submitted perhaps the biggest turnaround of the day. Kirk entered the tournament 81st in the points, but, by virtue of being tied for 22d at 5 under after 54 holes, was projected to finish 61st.
However, Kirk played the first 13 holes on Monday at 5 over, only to rally by making birdies on four of the last five holes, sparked by a 43-foot birdie putt on No. 14.
“To be honest with you, I think I had just about given up with five holes to go,’’ said Kirk, who wound up tied for 35th at 4-under 280. “Today I just didn’t feel like I could get anything right, not making any putts, not hitting shots I wanted to, not hitting fairways. I had gone all the way back from 9 under to even par, so I had fallen pretty far. But I made a long putt on 14, I guess, and then it just kind of clicked from there.’’
Pride wasn’t locked into the top 70 until he survived one last scare from John Merrick, who came in a spot behind Blixt in 98th place. Merrick needed to birdie his last two holes to earn his spot, but Merrick parred 17 and birdied 18 to also finish at 6-under 278, tied with Blixt and Pride for 20th place in the tournament and 72d in points.
At that point, Blixt’s only hope of making the cut was Charley Hoffman.
Hoffman, the 2010 Deutsche Bank champion, started the day tied for seventh at 10 under and got off to a great start, making birdies on three of the first five holes to reach 13 under and climb into the top five on the leaderboard.
But Hoffman imploded, playing the last 10 holes 8 over, taking a quadruple-bogey 7 on No. 11 when he blew his tee shot way right into the trees and had to take a penalty drop. He tied for 26th and barely hung on to make the BMW field with a knee-knocking 12-foot putt for par on the 18th that left him 69th in the points.
“Nerves? There were no nerves, because they were all fried at that point,’’ Hoffman said of his par-saving putt on 18. “I didn’t expect to be playing next week, especially after shooting 42 on the back nine, I don’t think I deserve to be playing next week. I guess I got another chance. I guess that’s what the playoffs are all about.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.