A day of firsts at En-Joie
ENDICOTT, N.Y. - It was a day of firsts at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open as the tournament had its first playoff and Willie Wood came away with his first Champions Tour victory.
"It was kind of a strange day in the way it started," Wood said. "I was three back and John Huston holed it for an eagle (on one) and he's such a streaky player and I thought he was going to run and hide, then he stared hitting the water. And, then Brad (Faxon) took control until those final holes."
A late bogey by Faxon dropped him into a tie with Wood at 12-under, but they were both chasing Michael Allen as they went to the 18th green as Allen had birdied 18 to finish at 13-under.
After Faxon just missed a birdie putt that would have put him into a playoff with Allen, it was Wood's turn as he had an approximately 35-foot putt for birdie.
"Actually I thought I left it short," Wood said. "I knew I had the line but I thought I left it short."
For Faxon it was a near miss on making the playoff.
"18, hit a beautiful drive and I had a hard nine-iron shot," Faxon said. "The pin was on the right, so it was one of those I kind of had to start a little bit right and I didn't want to hit it out over the right edge of the green. It was an indecision shot and I just hooked it. Getting a little run there from the fringe, almost made the 50 or 60 footer, but would have liked to have a better chance than that on the last hole. I'm excited for Willie. We've been playing since college and that was a pretty nice cool putt to see.
The last time Wood was in a playoff was against Horseheads' Joey Sindelar more than two decades ago.
"The only other playoff I had was on the PGA Tour versus Joey Sindelar at the Hardie's Classic in about 1990 and we went to the playoff and I wasn't really ready to play."
In the playoff things went perfectly for Wood as the hit first and his drive was right down the fairway and Allen followed with a shot in the water and after dropping his third shot hit the greenside bunker.
"He got really lucky and got to go first," Allen said. "I say that, I'm just kidding around. (He) hit a beautiful tee shot. I stood up and hit nice cuts there on the practice range and felt pretty good. Actually, really hit a nice solid shot, butI hit it dead straight with a slight pull and hit it in the water and I was kind of done then.
"He hit a beautiful whatever shot, he hit right in the middle of the green where he should have, and two putted. So, I thought, I was trying to make my bunker shot, but you don't make many of those over the years, so he two putted and it was over."
After Allen hit the shot in the water and the next shot in the bunker, Wood knew he just needed to get a par.
"Michael pulled it and he hit it in the water and he put his next shot in the bunker and I knew I really probably just needed par then," Wood said.
ALLEN FEATURED NATIONALLY
While Allen may not have come away with the victory, he will be featured on a Your Life Calling segment on the Today Show.
Jane Pauley was in town Sunday and she is interviewing Allen for the show, which features people age 50 and over who are trying new things.
While Allen is still playing the game of golf, things have changed for him on the Champions Tour.
"He's our 26th story and we are in our third season on the Today Show," Pauley said. "We have tried to get 26 exciting, different stories from all different places. I found Michael because I read the sports page and he was having a great spring. At age 53 he has never played better golf."
While Allen hasn't changed careers, he is having a career rebirth on the Champions Tour.
"To stay in the game is my goal," Pauley said. "I don't need to say in the game in the majors. I don't need to be Katie Couric. I want to say engaged, I want to be a part of the game. And, I have something in common with Michael in that the career I have now looks a lot like my old career.
"My career still involves being in front of a camera and his career still involves golf. But, he is playing some of the best golf of his life. Michael Allen has never played golf better than he is playing in his 50s."
One of the things that Pauley has liked seeing is that golf is a sport that has a tour set up for players in their 50s and older.
"In some careers you really do have to set different goals (as you get older)," Pauley said. "Golf was imaginative to realize that there could be a whole other competition."
After Wood won the tournament, he talked about how special the Champions Tour is for players.
"I played a PGA event in July and it was with kinds younger than my son," Wood said. "It wasn't the same, I wanted to be here."
SO CLOSE FOR SINDELAR
When the day started Sindelar didn't think he had a great chance of winning on Sunday.
When the day ended he was just one shot back from a playoff, finishing tied for third at 12-under.
"Yeah, driving down with my wife, Sue, she said, what do you think you have to shoot? I said 60, 61, 62 because John Huston is such an awesome frontrunner, as are some of the other guys up there, but Huston particularly. I just thought he was going to keep right on going and when he didn't, you know I'm betting all of a sudden when it's halfway through the round, the mentality changes and golf happens.
"So, I was interested to see that the lead didn't get past like maybe 13 at any point. So, that kind of gave John Cook and I hope, you know, in our group, Roger didn't have a great start, but it gave us hope if we could do something funny coming in we might have a chance. I'm surprised that 13 is in the conversation, actually, but on the other hand, it's a good golf course. There's lot and lots of birdies out there, but if you get off the beaten path you can get standing somewhere you don't want to be."
For Sindelar the home crowd is a big boost when he's on the course in contention.
"I think these people inspire maybe three quarters of a shot to a shot and a half a round out here, telling me that I need to do it rather than hoping, and for almost 30 years now it's been a blast. Today was fun. It was a perfect scoring day, the wind wasn't really much of a factor, the greens were perfect. It was a fun day, fun just to be able to have this conversation."
While the crowds can be huge when Sindelar plays, he thinks he plays well with that support.
"How do you not pull energy from all these people wanting you to do well?," Sindelar said. "It's great stuff. I've had the discussion on sports radio this week. Some guys, notably Mark O'Meara at Pebble Beach winning five tournaments and Davis Love winning four Harbour Towns, in their home environment have done very well. But, other guys just hat it because it's extra tickets and it's more dinners with people and it's a busy environment. But, it's worked very well for me. I don't have the record they have, but I've had a lot of success here on the golf course at my hometown event, so it's worked well for me."