Jeff Overton reacts after missing a short birdie putt on No. 17 during Sunday's final round.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - All things considered, even the historic 59 Sunday by Stuart Appleby, Jeff Overton may still be the PGA Tour's hottest player.But it seems more and more that Overton is the Tour's most star-crossed.This much is more certain: He is the highest-ranked player on the tour without a victory.He entered the week with two second-place finishes and two thirds this year alone. He led a 2007 event, the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., only to see Brandt Snedeker shoot a 63 and win by two strokes.
This time around, he fell victim to the Tour's fifth round of 59, and the second in four weekends. And perhaps a spike mark, to boot.Overton began the day three shots ahead of D.A. Points and seven ahead of Appleby, who played two groups ahead. As news of Appleby's red-hot round filtered back - usually by increasingly loud roars from the gallery - Overton knew he was going to have to shake off a sluggish putter and regain his 64-62-66 form.He birdied Nos. 10 and 11 to overcome an even-par front and move to 20-under, but he knew he had to do more. "I kind of went into the state of mind that I needed to birdie all three holes," he said.Overton got his birdie on the 442-yard 16th, firing his approach to within 6 feet.After a 311-yard drive on the par-5 17th, he fired his second shot 521/2 feet past the hole. With the pin placed in the front behind a bunker, that was a common fate for those who went for the green in two, but he still was in good shape for a birdie. He was in better shape after leaving his first putt 31/2 feet short.
The birdie putt would have set up a chance to win the tournament outright with a birdie on the 18th, or force a playoff with a par. Indeed, Appleby was alone on the driving range preparing for such a playoff.Instead, Overton's short birdie putt lipped out. It was his third three-putt on the day.Considered one of the more expressive players on the Tour, he seemed to look for somebody, perhaps a striped-shirt official, to plead his case.But in golf, the roll of the ball is final, and can be so cruel."I though I put a great stroke on it; I thought I put it right in the center," Overton said. "Yeah, like a foot and a half from the hole, it just went hard left. Might not have been a mark, but it looked like there was a pretty good ... that just happens or whatever, on Sundays. Late in the day it gets bumpy."
Still, he could have forced a playoff with a birdie at the shooting-gallery 18th, but hit his tee shot way, way short. It landed on the green, but on the wrong side of the mischievous horseshoe that dissects the putting surface.
He had 52 feet, 2 inches over that hump, a beast of a putt to read. He nearly pulled it off, as the putt just slid past the hole on the left side.Overton acknowledged the angst on his missed putt on 17, but denied that it carried over to his final tee shot."No, not at all," he said. "I had programmed myself to birdie 17 and 18. I hit it - I mean, it was all over the flag today. I just hit it a groove low."And then the putt I hit, it looked like it was in all the way. Soon as it came off the putter, I just about jumped out of my pants, and it just rolled over the edge."The 27-year-old resident of Bloomington, Ind., has finished in the top 12 in six of his last nine starts, including a tie for 11th at the British Open. He was second at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the Byron Nelson Championship, and third at the Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial and the AT&T National.All that and his finish Sunday shot him up to sixth place in the FedExCup point standings. The $648,000 second-place prize shoves him past the $3 million mark, which places him fourth on the tour's money list.
The lost chance at victory could loom large in the Ryder Cup U.S. team standings. He did climb to fourth place, passing Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Lucas Glover and Anthony Kim.But there are two weekends left. Next week is the Bridgestone Invitational, the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio (with a low-purse Tour event available for those who do not qualify), and the next week is the PGA Championship. He is not sure if he's in the Akron field yet, but he definitely will play the PGA at Whistling Straits, Wis.The top eight Americans automatically make the Ryder Cup team, with captain Corey Pavin selecting the other four members.Overton plans to return to West Virginia, if the schedule works out. Chances are, it would seem, he would return with a Tour victory under his belt.If his putting - and his luck - improves."You know, I've been having a great year, playing great golf," he said. "It's tough to beat 59s."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org