Magical finish for Potter
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Ted Potter Jr. struck another blow for PGA Tour rookies Sunday, roaring through the final four holes and surviving a three-hole playoff to steal the Greenbrier Classic trophy.
Potter became the second rookie in a row to win the three-year-old tournament, following Scott Stallings. He wins $1.098 million, a two-year exemption and a trip to the upcoming British Open. He also qualifies for the 2013 Masters.
He did it in dramatic fashion, going from 12 under to 16 under in those four holes. Troy Kelly had seized the lead from Webb Simpson and had made it to 16 under by his 14th hole.
Two groups ahead, Potter went for the gusto and it paid off. The left-hander started his rally with a 49-foot downhill birdie putt on the 15th, a 204-yard par-3.
After parring the 16th, he reached the green in two on the 616-yard 17th, then hit the eagle putt from 27 feet. On the 18th, he had only 4 feet, 10 inches to get his birdie and finish with his second 64 in a row.
"I only got a glimpse at the [leader] board one time," said the 28-year-old native of Ocala, Fla. "I think 15 or 16 [under] was leading. I was back at, like, 12 at the time. When I saw that, I was [thinking] they're probably going to get to 17 under at least, so I'm thinking I was probably out of the tournament.
"So at that time, I knew I had to make some birdies coming in, but at the same time I didn't want to play too aggressive where I'm making bogeys. I mean, a third-place finish or fourth-place finish will mean a lot to my year now."
When Kelly missed an 11-footer for birdie on the 17th and parred the 18th, the playoff was set. Kelly, who dropped off the tour after 2009 and qualified again through the then-Nationwide Tour in 2011, followed his third-round 62 with a 66.
The playoff rotation was 18-17-18. Both parred the 18th and then the 17th, but there was much more drama in the latter.
Kelly put his second shot in a green-side bunker, but barely got it out. He said he had trouble with his stance, particularly with putting his left leg at an odd angle.
"I just hit it fat. I've done that before," he said. "When I've been in that position before, I've hit it fat, unfortunately, and today I did it again."
He didn't chip out of the rough much better, and had 221/2 feet for a par. Potter had 8 feet for birdie.
Kelly, who had hit a 21-foot putt to get his round started on the second, sent the gallery roaring by making it. Then Potter missed his potential tournament-winner.
"Just got it outside the hole and hit it a touch harder than I wanted to, but I guess that's part of nerves there," Potter said.
Potter regrouped on the 18th, hitting his tee shot on the 164-yard par-3 within 5 feet. Kelly was 46 feet away, on the wrong side of the horseshoe-shaped hump in that unusual green.
Kelly gave it a good run, but to no avail. Potter made his putt look simple, beating the rumbles of thunder that could have delayed play.
The result gave both players a huge boost in what had been difficult seasons. Potter shot up to 51st in the FedExCup points list and should rise sharply from 218th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
His highest finish had been a 13th at the Sony Open, and he had made less than $200,000 this season.
Kelly rose from 239th to 104th in the FedExCup list - 125 is a magic number there. He has made just four cuts in 16 attempts, and had barely made $25,000. Sunday, he won $658,800.
But Potter gets the big trophy, capturing an event with a number of big names. Like Stallings before, he has come out of nowhere to put his stamp on the game of golf, at least for a few days.
Hey, he trended on Twitter after the tournament.
"Just knowing I've got a couple more years out here to have full exemption, to be able to play what I want to play in and be able to schedule my own tournaments, that's going to be nice," he said. "So I'm looking forward to that."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.