American Ben Crane posted 10-under-par 270 to defeat American Troy Merritt by one shot Sunday on a soggy TPC Southwind course in Memphis. Webb Simpson, Matt Every and Carl Pettersson tied for another shot further back. Crane’s win was his fifth on TOUR and first since The McGladrey in 2011.
Ben Crane entered Sunday with a three-shot lead over journeyman Troy Merritt and hung on to win on Sunday as he limped home in 73. No birdies were circled on his card and his three bogeys were one more than he had made in the first 54 holes. Crane holed a huge 18-foot-par putt on No. 13 that stopped the bleeding and changed the momentum and got him back on track. His two-shot lead on the 18th tee made for a comfortable finish even though he did make bogey.
After opening with 63-65 Crane entered the weekend with a four-shot lead. As weather played havoc with tee times and completion of rounds, Crane kept his nerve and his cool in his Saturday/Sunday 69 to take a three-shot lead into the final round. Crane used his solid short game and hot putter to outlast the field. He only made five bogeys on the week and was first in strokes gained-putting. He was also T5 in pars made as his ball-striking didn’t give him too many looks. The putter was the story as at one point he was 28-28 of putts inside FIFTEEN FEET for the week. That’s hot, period.
It’s not a surprise that Crane wasn’t mentioned heading into this week as he has struggled on TOUR recently. He MC in five of his last seven events and has exactly one top 25/top 10 in 16 previous events this season. Heck, he has only two finishes inside of the top 40 this season. He did show signs of life in Dallas a few weeks ago as he carded his first two rounds in the 60s in NINE events dating back to March 2 at the Honda. After back problems late last summer, he’s changed his swing to alleviate the stresses on the back and this could have been part of his slow start.
Crane had flashed some form in Memphis in prior years as he played the weekend on all six of his loops around the redesigned TPC Southwind since 2004. In three of last four starts, he’s found himself in the top 18 (T14, T12 and T18 last year). Crane reminds all of us that there are more than one way to cash a check in Memphis as it doesn’t always have to be premium ball-strikers. He will be added to the “horses-for-courses” for the FESJC.
For season-long investors his struggles paid off today as he’s now doubled his 2013 dollars. Crane now has five wins on TOUR and he’s 2-0 with the 54-hole lead (U.S. Bank Championship, 2005). Moving forward, Crane will jump from No. 275 in the OWGR to around No. 100 but only the top 60 in the OWGR play next week at Pinehurst.
With his victory, Crane collects $1,044,000, 500 FedExCup points and is fully exempt through 2015-16.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won 22 of 30 events in 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson (TWO), Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, Matt Every, Matt Kuchar, J.B. Holmes, Brendon Todd and Ben Crane have won for the USA.
Adam Scott, Matt Jones, Steven Bowditch, John Senden and Jason Day, all Australians, have cashed five victories. Matsuyama joins Seung-yul Noh as the Asian representatives and Martin Kaymer is flying the flag for Europe with his victory.
S.Y. Noh, Steven Bowditch, Matt Every, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Chesson Hadley Matt Jones, Brendon Todd and Matsuyama are the first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year and we’ve had nine in 30 events so far in 2014. #onpace Troy Merritt gave it a go this week but came in solo second.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. I’m always trying to figure out if this is a trend or not. In 2013-14, 16 of 29 leaders have gone on to win as Ben Crane is now 2-0 with the 54-hold lead.
Make it 54 of 58 winners at this event that are born in the U.S.A. That song, by the way, Born in the U.S.A. turns 30 this year. If you didn’t think you were old…
Speaking of old, since the turn of the century only Dustin Johnson, Notah Begay and Harris English have been players in their 20s to win on this track.
There has never been a back-to-back champion since the redesign. Harris English tried but finished 73-68 to MC.
Crane becomes just the fifth player to go wire-to-wire. He’s the second player in the last five years to accomplish this as Brian Gay turned the trick in 2009.
Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson remain the only players on TOUR with multiple wins this season. Reed didn’t live to see the weekend to add to his total.
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has since added two more wins to lead the FedExCup standings. He has been joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua, Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson (35), joined them at Riviera. Matt Every (30), Steven Bowditch (30) and Matt Jones (33), all first-timers, flew the flag before Watson picked up victory No. 2 of the year at Augusta. Since the first major, Matt Kuchar (37), J.B. Holmes (32), Adam Scott (33) and now Crane, 38, add to the prime-timers trophy case.
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) Seung-Yul Noh (22), Martin Kaymer (29), Brendon Todd, 28 and now Matsuyama (22), are the twenty-somethings who have made large noise this year.
Australian John Senden, 42, won at Tampa Bay for the only W for the “Old Guys” this season. Phil Mickelson is 40-something. He was T11.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10
Troy Merritt: He entered the week 194th in the FedExCup points race and was ranked 805th in the OWGR. Should I continue? Entering the week he MC in nine of 12 events and his three finishes were T46, T46 and T48. He’s made back-to-back cuts once. The last time he played a full TOUR season was 2011 when he teed it up in 23 events. He made $151,475 that year. He had $49, 078 this year before his solo second netted him $626,400. He was T1 in birdies, second in SGP, sixth in fairways and T12 in GIR. Sadly he made a double and 10 other bogeys that kept him from a victory that would have changed his life. His T2 is his best finish on TOUR and only his second top 10 in 65 starts. He didn’t make a birdie in his final 15 holes on Sunday. Moving forward, I’ll need to see a couple more top 25s before I’m investing based on the numbers above.
Webb Simpson: Every week a guy from the FADE section seems to hit the top 10. I wish I would know which guy this would be BEFORE the rounds get started on Thursday. Anyhow, form is temporary, class is permanent. It’s an old saying that never gets old because it’s true and Simpson is this week’s example. After doing absolutely nothing on the course in stroke play since solo 10th in Phoenix, Simpson needed seven events before pegging another top 10. His T3 couldn’t come at a better time as the 2012 U.S. Open champion gets ready to tee it up at Pinehurst next week. Simpson closed with three birdies in his final four holes to come home in 32 and carded six birdies on the day. He was T7 in GIR and only made seven bogeys on the week. Rob Bolton brought him to life this week and now I have to put him on the radar for next week.
Matt Every: Whoa! Two of the three FADES this week hit the podium as Matt Every shook off his recent slump to hit T3 as well. Maybe I should fade MYSELF! After WD at Zurich at the end of April, Every banged out three MCs in a row before his resurgence this week. His five bogeys were T1 on the week and he ground out 51 pars which was T8. Those numbers are even more impressive considering he was T62 in GIR so that tells me his short game was on point. He was fifth in SGP.
Carl Pettersson: The 2013-14 season has been feast or famine for the man who trains with beers and ice cream. He’s ground out 20 starts but he’s only played in 11 weekends. His only top 10 before this week was T4 in Puerto Rico in an alternate event as the WGC was going on. He backed that T4 with T20 in Tampa and two weeks later found T16 at Valero but that’s been it. Once March ended, Pettersson looked like he was going hibernate as he MC in four of his next eight starts. His best finish in that stretch was a quiet T31 at SHO. Pettersson led the field in GIR and was third in fairways. That’s one way to break out of a slump. Pettersson has now finished T8 and T3 in his last two here. #noted
Ian Poulter: He was Ian Poultering along before he lit up TPC Southwind in round four with 64. This wonderful run moved him up 29 spots to T6 and his best finish on this side of the pond since last year’s T9 at the DBC, a span of 12 events. Poulter did it a bit differently this year as his final round 76 in 2013 saw him drop in the other direction. He’s now played six of his last eight rounds here in the 60s so that’s legit. I can’t ever get a handle on “TOUR” Poulter as he usually rears his head in bigger events worldwide. Next week’s event meets that qualification.
James Hahn: He could care less about weather issues or delays as he fired 67-67 and only made one bogey in his final two rounds. Not bad for only finding half of the fairways this week! He did manage T12 in GIR and T16 SGP so that’s where he made his money this week. For the second time in three events (T5 HPBNC) Hahn has cracked the top six and is comfortably inside the FedExCup 125. I like to hop on guys who get real hot real quick so I’m keeping Hahn in my sights if he tees it up in Hartford. This is a NOW golfer.
Andrew Svoboda: The first time we got to know Svoboda he was battling Seung-yul Noh down the stretch at Zurich back in May. Last week, he was in the thick of it late on Sunday at the Memorial before a 74 knocked him to T19. He bounced back quite nicely this week to finish T6 and that’s his second finish in the top six in his last six stretching back to Zurich. He’s now made six of the last eight weekends and five of those finishes are T26 or better.
Brian Harman: Plenty of fairways (T10), plenty of holed putts (T15 SGP) and plenty of bogeys avoided (four through three rounds) saw Harman sit in contention heading into Sunday for the second time in three weeks. At Colonial he was in a pack one shot back before 73 knocked to T30 at the end of play Sunday. After his MC last week at Memorial and no rounds in four under 70 at TPC Southwind, he wasn’t on my radar this week. Sunday this week was a similar story as he carded 72 to drop three spots to T6. Salary gamers love the fact that he’s already played 21 events and has hit the top 10 five times. He played 30 events in 2012 and 29 last year so he’s turning into the American Brendon de Jonge. The former Georgia Bulldog is looking to join his litter mates with a victory and if he keeps putting himself in these positions, it will come sooner than later.
Billy Horschel: Make it back-to-back top 10s in Memphis for the former Florida Gator as he backed up his T10 in 2013 with T6 this week. After MC in his first two trips he’s now improved the last three years (T72, T10 and T6) so he’s a permanent marker pick here next year. Horschel has been showing signs of busting out and he gave his season-long owners and weekly investors more positive signs this week. After 50 pars last week at Memorial he found 51 more in Memphis. He only made five bogeys last week and six this week. He made a double but cancelled that out with an eagle. He was T2 this week in GIR and T30 in putts per GIR. A very quiet 2013-2014 is hotting up quickly as the last three weeks he’s posted T26, T15 and T6. He’ll be in the chalk next week for me as his ball-striking is just too solid.
What happened to my pre-tournament favorites? Not much this week..
Dustin Johnson: Throw out his 75 in round three and he would have been breathing down Ben Crane’s neck on Sunday but those aren’t the rules. He moved up 19 places to finish T24 with his final round 67. There was more positive than negative this week so I’m totally unconcerned heading into next week. Don’t believe it? He played six of eight nines this week UNDER par. It was his 41 going out in round three that sunk his chances.
Ryan Palmer: His all-or-nothingness continues in Memphis as three top 10s, including two in the top four the last two years, have been cancelled out by three MCs and this year’s T32. It would have been worse than that except for his closing 68 to move up 18 spots to his final position. His 67 in round one taunted gamers that he would be right up there again but 11 bogeys and two doubles wiped that out. He still made 16 birdies and was T12 in GIR but he was 62nd in SGP, which is very strange.
Phil Mickelson: He backed up his T2 from 2013 with T11 this season as he still can’t find a top 10. Changing his putting grip in mid-round Sunday might put some people off but not me. The more chaos, the better, I say! He entered the final round with only four bogeys on his card for the week but made three more in his final nine holes to fade out of the top 10, barely. It obvious that this course fits his eye and the light field that plays makes him a must-start in all formats if he’s entered.
Lee Westwood: The best laid plans…Usually when course history and current form merge, NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS but we gamers never seem to learn. Or want to believe it. Anyhow, Westwood was two-under and cruising as he headed to the back nine in the second round. After 43 more shots, he was packing up and heading to Pinehurst as gamers shook their angry fists. Sh!t happens. Again. We move on and Westwood’s prospects are no better or worse heading into next week’s U.S. Open. Gamers will remind me that this is the SECOND time Westwood has done this to us this spring (Wells Fargo).
John Senden: He dug himself an early hole and even a quality 67 in round two couldn’t see him dodge the line. He missed by one and will get an extra look at Pinehurst. The 67 in round two tells me more than the 74 in round one.
Harris English: Of all the players in the Chalk, English’s MC was probably the least surprising given his lack of current form. Gamers will be aware that he’s now MC in four of his last six and has zero finishes inside the top 30. I always worry more when a guy goes to defend and lays an egg at a place that should bring back great memories. I’ll do him a favor and put him on the FADE list next week and that should break him out! Thank me later, Harris!
Paul Casey: The Englishman’s very solid run of play continued this week with another top 25, his fifth in his last six events, as he finished T24. This was another solid but unspectacular outing and there’s nothing wrong with hooking the wagon to a former world No. 3.
Graeme McDowell: His T24 gave him his second top 25 (T7 in 2009) in three starts at TPC Southwind. Gamers will be encouraged to see that his sharp short game was firing as the 2010 U.S. Open champion hit less than 50% of GIR but was fourth in SGP. That’s now seven top 25s in nine weekends and rust knocked off for Pinehurst.
Zach Johnson: His four rounds this week summed up his 2014 to this point: consistently inconsistent. He opened 2014 with WIN, T8 and T3 in his first three starts as gamers were starting to lick their chops. Well, those of you who didn’t jump on from the word go have been have been chasing shadows since. A T16 and T6 highlighted March but in seven events throughout April, May and June have yielded zero top 10s and only one top 25 (T14, WFC). After opening with 64 I was cursing myself for leaving him on the bench in a weaker field. After 74-74-71 to close, I’m happy I still have three starts left.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.