By Jay Betsill
The 2014 Valero Texas Open week began with the buzz that comes along with having a star-studded field including Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Ernie Els. Thursday morning arrived amidst a thick fog that slowed things down to a crawl with the first round being delayed until 10 a.m. It would be a sign of things to come that lasted throughout the weekend. One that turned out to be a happy ending for Dallas-area resident Steven Bowditch with his first PGA Tour win and a congratulatory call from Greg Norman.
With the AT&T Oaks course at the TPC San Antonio set up tough and the wind causing playing conditions to be equally as difficult, Mickelson fired a 77 in his opening round. Lefty had a larger gallery following him all day on Friday, hoping that his first trip to the Texas Open since 1992 would not have a premature end. Knowing he needed a birdie on No. 18 to play the weekend, Mickelson went for the green in two shots with a three-wood from 288 yards and watched it land on the edge of the creek that sliced in front of the green. He ended up taking off his left shoe, rolling up his pants, and blasted out of the greenside water hazard to five feet to set up a birdie on the final hole.
The vintage ‘Mickelson’ dramatic escape to make the cut on the number had San Antonio golf fans dreaming of his being in contention on the weekend. They woke up to him withdrawing from the tournament on Saturday after 10 holes due to a pulled muscle. He was 1-over par in the round and 4 over, overall.
“I pulled a muscle on my downswing trying to hit it hard on the first hole,” Mickelson said a statement. “It just killed and it wouldn’t subside for 10 or 12 seconds. I’m going back to San Diego (for) a couple of days and have a doctor look at it, but there’s really not much you can do for a pulled muscle. I hope I’ll be OK to play the Shell in Houston, but I just don’t know.”
Notables who stuck around for the weekend included Spieth, Jim Furyk, John Senden, Zach Johnson and FedEx Cup points leader Jimmy Walker. As the action slowly wound down on Sunday, pace of play was the biggest topic of conversation. The final group was actually put on the clock after taking three hours to play the front nine. While Matt Kuchar was the biggest name left in serious contention, he would go three-over on the back nine. and Bowditch’s 76 would be good enough to hold on for a one stroke win.
“I’m over the moon. I really can’t believe it,” said Bowditch, the 30-year-old Australian who attempted suicide in 2006 and has fought depression throughout his career. “Every time I got out of check, looking ahead to the Masters and winning golf events and making my speeches before I was finished, I had to pull myself in check every time and it happened a lot today.”
Bowditch finished at 8-under and earned $1,116,000. His 4-over 76 is the highest closing score by a tournament winner in a non-major since Fred Couples had a 5-over 77 in the 1983 Kemper Open, but the win gets him a two-year exemption on tour and the all-important invite into the field at the Masters.
The PGA TOUR stays in Texas, heading east to the Shell Houston Open at the newly-minted Golf Club of Houston. The course, formerly Redstone Golf Club, was purchased by Fort Worth-based Escalante Golf last year and the name change was part of the purchase agreement. The strong field that includes 22 major winners boasts names such as Keegan Bradley, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood. Mickelson is entered in the event, but his status is uncertain depending on his health after his withdraw from the Texas Open. Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion and 2003 Houston Open winner, had to withdraw due to a sore back.