NORTON — Brendan Steele knew what he had to do in the final three-plus holes if he wanted to stay alive in the PGA Tour playoffs. So he decided to sleep on it.
Forced to take a two-hour break during Monday’s rain delay at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Steele caught a nap and tried to improve his mood, which at the time wasn’t good. Once he woke up and play resumed, Steele unleashed a torrent of birdies that bought him another tournament.
Steele birdied the last four holes, a final-round finish that allowed him to just sneak into the number needed to move into the BMW Championship, reserved for only the top 70 on the points list. Steele was 89th coming into the tournament, and was projected No. 74 at the start of the final round.
He was still projected 74th while playing the 18th hole, but had some inside information: He was paired with Ernie Els, who was a stroke in front of Steele in the tournament but two spots behind Steele in the points standings. Steele knew, then, that if he could catch Els in the tournament standings, he’d be guaranteed to finish ahead of Els in the points standings.
“I knew that I needed some serious birdies there after the delay,” said Steele, who canned an 11-foot birdie putt on No. 15 when play resumed after the weather delay. “I knew I started a point in front of Ernie, so I needed to at least get tied with him, maybe, for the last spot. So I was trying to chase him down, for sure.”
He did, with his two-putt birdie at No. 18 giving Steele just enough points to sit 69th on the points list. After a week off, he’s on to Chicago.
Els had a chance, but missed birdie putts at the last three holes once play resumed. His fate was then left up to others, whose birdies and bogeys could alter the points Els would receive. In the end, Els got in with no room to spare. He’s No. 70.
“I kind of knew I was right on the line,” Els said. “I really felt I needed to get to 14 under to be safe. I didn’t quite do that.”
Toughest break was K.J. Choi, who bogeyed the easiest hole on the course, the par-5 18th, to fall from inside the projected 70 to 73d.
Under the radar
A race that didn’t get much airtime was between Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson for the last automatic spot on the US Presidents Cup team. Because of Steve Stricker’s runner-up finish he jumped from 11th to seventh and took one of the 10 automatic spots. That left Simpson (who came into the tournament ninth on the Presidents Cup points list) and Johnson (10th) to battle for the final position.
As luck would have it, they were paired together for the final round, and with four holes remaining were still tied. That favored Simpson, but Johnson closed with two birdies, including a 26-footer at No. 9, his final hole. That last putt was the difference, and put Johnson on the team; without that birdie, Simpson would have secured the final spot. Instead, he dropped to 11th.
“I feel fortunate, very fortunate,” said Johnson, who has been part of five US teams, but missed the 2011 Presidents Cup. “I wish there were a way we could somehow be tied for 10th, because I want Webb on that team.”
If Simpson is to make it, he’ll need to be a captain’s pick. Other contenders for Fred Couples’s two selections figure to include Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk, and Dustin Johnson.
“He’s got a tough job. We’ll see what he does,” said Simpson. “I knew that we were so close and that every shot counted.”
The rain man
When he was the sponsor’s face of the tournament, former Deutsche Bank Americas CEO SethWaugh oversaw an event that had only one brief weather delay in 10 years. Jacques Brand, the new CEO, must have brought some bad luck, because the first tournament with him in charge was hampered by delays on Sunday and Monday.
We jokingly kid, Mr. Brand.
Deutsche Bank has a signed contract as title sponsor through the 2016 tournament, and Brand said he and the PGA Tour are committed to keeping the Monday finish.
“I am very happily soaking this all in, it’s been a wonderful experience all around,” Brand said on Monday morning. “For us, we want to continue the commitment of Deutsche Bank to bringing world-class golf to New England, and every year to try to deepen and broaden our commitment.”
Tiger Woods finished off his worst-ever showing at the Deutsche Bank Championship, shooting a 73 to tie for 65th. In eight previous appearances, his lowest finish had been a tie for 40th in 2005. “It wasn’t my week,” Woods said. “I didn’t play well and didn’t make anything.” He was again trailed by his 6-year-old daughter, Sam, and with a week off before the next playoff event, had a long list of activities planned. “School, ballet, dance, T-ball, soccer. I’ve got a busy week.” . . . Keegan Bradley birdied his final two holes to shoot 70 and finish at 13 under. He tied for 16th, and is safely on to the next playoff event . . . Paired with Spieth and watching the 20-year-old shoot 62, Phil Mickelson birdied his last two holes to shoot his third straight 71, after opening with a front-nine 28 and a first-round 63. He finished at 8 under and tied for 41st. Mickelson came into the week with six straight sub-70 rounds at TPC Boston, and made it seven on Friday. Now he’s gone three straight rounds without breaking 70 . . . Rory McIlroy ended defense of his title with a 72, and tied for 47th . . . All five players from outside the top 100 who claimed Deutsche Bank Championship spots at the Barclays — Martin Kaymer, GregChalmers, Erik Compton, Stuart Appleby, and Camilo Villegas – saw their playoff runs end.