The Wyndham Championship is positioned on the calendar as the ultimate lifesaver.
It’s the PGA Tour’s final get-rich-quick opportunity, the place where one week can absolve the mistakes of 10 months and where one good round can change the outlook for the following year.
In the span of a few hours Sunday, though, the field of dreams expected at Sedgefield Country Club transformed into a minefield, with casualties scattered across the fairways as players at every level of the Tour’s hierarchy suffered heartbreak after heartbreak.
While Camilo Villegas left with the trophy, a deserving champion after a final-round 63, those left in his wake exited with scars that may take months – if not years – to heal.
The player with the most to gain Sunday was Heath Slocum, though he became the one who lost the most after stumbling to the finish line. At No. 158 in the FedEx Cup standings, Slocum knew to begin the week that he needed a big result, and through 70 holes he was where he needed to be. An eagle on the par-5 15th was followed by a birdie on No. 16, and Slocum quickly emerged from a pack of contenders to join Villegas and Nick Watney atop the standings at 17 under.
But Slocum hadn’t cracked the top 10 since his win at the 2010 McGladrey Classic, and he played the final two holes like a man with something to lose. A stubbed chip on the 17th hole dropped him one shot off the pace, then he found himself 42 feet away for birdie on the final green.
What played out next required an abacus and perhaps a FedEx Cup currency conversion chart, as Slocum’s playing partner, Freddie Jacobson, was in the process of bogeying the 18th to ruin his shot at the title. When he stood over his lengthy birdie putt, Slocum’s scenarios were simple: make it to tie Villegas and head to a playoff, or two-putt for par and tie for second, locking up a spot in the playoffs and a PGA Tour card for next year.
Slocum played for the win, racing his putt 6 feet past. The par attempt never had a chance, and in the span of two holes he plummeted from co-leader to a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals.
Afterward he regretted the outcome, but not the execution.
“I mean, how many times are you going to get that situation, a chance to maybe win a golf tournament?” Slocum said. “I hit it too hard obviously, but I was trying to make sure I got it there and I hit a poor putt on the second one. … Obviously, I’m terribly disappointed.”
Slocum’s tale was one of high-stakes disappointment, but he was not the only one leaving Sedgefield wondering what-if.
Like Slocum, Brad Fritsch had plenty to play for Sunday: his first win, his highest PGA Tour finish, and oh yeah – a card for next year.
Fritsch struggled under the pressure of a spot in the day’s final pairing, shooting an even-par 70 that left him in a tie for eighth. It means another trip to the Web.com Tour Finals for the Canadian, but after exiting the scoring trailer he had a more pressing question.
“Am I 151?” he asked.
Indeed he was, as Webb Simpson’s 72nd-hole birdie put a charge into the FedEx Cup calculators that left Fritsch at No. 151 in the final standings. While Nos. 126-150 aren’t fully exempt for next season, they do retain some conditional PGA Tour status.
Instead, Fritsch is left with no status on the main circuit as he readies for a trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., in two weeks.
“I was uncomfortable,” Fritsch said. “Didn’t have it today. Too many downhill, 35-footers that broke 4 feet, trying to get the right speed. It was tough. I just didn’t put myself in great position to make birdie putts.”
As a non-member, Jason Allred wasn’t thinking playoffs, or even FedEx Cup points. Allred’s approach was focused simply on making cash, as he began the final round in a tie for 18th and likely needed a top-14 finish to make enough money to earn his card for next year via the non-member money list.
An underdog tale that began with a T-3 finish at the Northern Trust Open and included a tie for sixth last month at Reno ended suddenly on the fourth hole Sunday, as Allred put his tee shot out of bounds on the right. He re-loaded, but yanked his next shot left.
It led to a quadruple bogey, a blow from which he could not recover. Even though he eagled the following hole, Allred posted a 3-over 73 to tie for 47th and now will join Slocum and Fritsch in the fight for one of 25 cards available at the Web.com Tour Finals.
“I felt like everything was right there,” Allred said. “I’m certainly disappointed, and I’m sure I’ll be more disappointed once it sinks in a little.
“I hope so much I can learn from today, because I want to be back out here so bad. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Perhaps the day’s cruelest blow, though, was reserved for little-known Kevin Foley. A rookie who hadn’t played in a PGA Tour event before the Sony Open seven months ago, Foley entered the week at No. 208 in the FedEx Cup standings, needing to crack the top 200 to earn a return trip to Finals. He was 1 over on the day when he pulled his approach into a greenside bunker at No. 18, but his blast left just 4 feet for par.
The putt failed to drop, and Foley finished at No. 201 in the standings.
For players like Foley, the difference between Nos. 200 and 201 is especially steep. While those who just miss the top 125 receive conditional status and a chance at redemption during the four Finals events, Foley has no such consolation prize. The next time he’ll tee it up will be at the second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School, and even full-time status on the developmental circuit is now far from a sure thing.
“I felt like I did a lot of good things all week, today just wasn’t the greatest,” he said. “Just hit the putt with too much pace for that line.”
Too much pace. Not enough chances. A mis-read putt.
The area behind 18th green at Sedgefield was littered with regret, as over the course of the final round, the promise of the Wyndham turned into the heartache of what-might-have-been.
-- Will Gray, GolfChannel.com