NORTON — There was a hint of fall in the air when Mark Wilson teed up his ball to begin the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, joined inside the ropes by only three other people: His caddie, and a pair of tournament volunteers.
Because an odd number of players made the 36-hole cut, and because the PGA Tour sends players off in twosomes for the final two rounds, Wilson drew the first tee time Sunday, albeit without a fellow competitor.
Even though it happens occasionally, it’s an unusual situation to be in. At some tournaments — the Masters and PGA Championship, to name two — a single might be sent out with a noncompeting marker. But Wilson went alone Sunday, and needed 2 hours, 58 minutes to shoot a 3-over-par 74.
“I’ve done it one other time. I guess I’m even par now. I shot 3 under at Hilton Head doing it, and it was like a walk in the park. Today, I struggled,” Wilson said. “I got off to a bad start. It’s kind of weird. I found myself maybe going a little too fast early, and finally I’m like, ‘What’s the point? Nobody’s going to catch me.’ ”
Tournament golf has a certain pace and rhythm to it, with players accustomed to playing in twos or threes, taking turns to hit, and to putt. Never in a foursome (unless it’s a playoff), and rarely by themselves. As a single, there’s no waiting for someone else, because there is no someone else. As the first player off, there’s no waiting for the group in front to clear. It’s just player, caddie, standard bearer, and walking scoring.
As strange as it might be to the player, it’s hard work for the caddie.
“He’s always trying to get the [hole locations] for tomorrow, and it’s harder to get those. And let’s say I hit it in the bunker, raking is tougher, because he feels like he’s got to move quickly,” Wilson said. “It’s just trying to find the right rhythm, and I think the key is to not race and go too fast. I got into that early and made a silly three-putt for a double. Settled down and played a little bit better after that.”
Wilson has a special connection to local golf history. He played in the 1992 US Junior Amateur at Wollaston Golf Club in Milton, and advanced to the championship match, where he lost to . . .
“Tiger Woods,” Wilson said. “I remember a lot of stuff from that week. I remember all my matches, playing Tiger. I remember the first hole, dogleg left down the hill. The front nine is a little hazy after that, but definitely starting on 14, I can remember those holes vividly.”
Woods beat Wilson that day, winning the 18th hole to take the title, 1-up. It was the second of six straight US Golf Association titles for Woods: He won three straight US Juniors (1991-93), then three straight US Amateurs (1994-96).
For Wilson, losing to Woods in the final helped send him on the path that would lead to the University of North Carolina, then to the PGA Tour, where he’s won five times in a 13-year career.
“It got me a college scholarship. I was having a good summer, but when you have a tournament like that on the national stage, it opens the eyes of the college coaches to think, ‘Oh, this kid can play.’ Most of my finishes before that were in state tournaments,” said Wilson, who was born in Wisconsin but now lives near Chicago. “It really kind of put me on the map with the college coaches. I think it helped me get a scholarship to go to whatever college I wanted.”
At 6 over par, Wilson again will have the first tee time for Monday’s final round. But he won’t be by himself this time. Due to Paul Casey withdrawing prior to the third round with a back injury (which meant J.B. Holmes also played as a single, shooting 69), that leaves 74 players, an even number. Wilson will have Morgan Hoffmann with him for the final 18 holes.