Sweden’s Jonas Blixt brought home his first-career TOUR victory as he closed out the Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Club in the second of four Fall Series events in San Martin, California. Blixt finished the week 16-under-par 268 to defeat Americans Tim Petrovic and Jason Kokrak by one shot. A group of four players shared fourth place another shot back.
Blixt came into the week projected as my No. 1 player and he lived up to the billing after his solo third and career-best finish last week at TPC Summerlin. His excellent bunker play and his lights-out putting were both on display down the stretch on Sunday. First, he had to get up and down on the short-side on No. 16 from the trap. The TOUR’s second-best bunker player knocked it to two feet and tapped in his par to remain tied for the lead. Then, on No. 17, after knocking it over the drivable par-four, his chip left him about eight feet for a birdie that would give him the outright lead. The TOUR’s third-best putter (strokes gained-putting) calmly rolled in that birdie putt to take the lead he would never relinquish. It wasn’t without some final drama on No. 18 as his approach shot hit the fringe and bounded down to the low part of green, leaving him over 34 feet for his clinching two putt. His first putt left him just shy of four feet for his first victory and Blixt ended the week 47-for-47 on putts inside five feet.
Blixt should have been on your radar after his performance last week in Las Vegas. In his last 12 rounds on TOUR his worst score is 72 (Deutsche Bank Classic). Before Blixt incurred a rib injury in early June, he was starting to demonstrate his skills on TOUR. He put together an excellent run which included T13 (Zurich), T9 (Wells Fargo) and his previous (before last week) career-best T3 at Colonial before his 74-77 saw him MC at the Memorial. In 2012, Blixt has made 13 cuts in 19 events and now has a win to go along with his two other top-three finishes. This was his eighth top 25 and fifth top 10. Not bad for a rookie!
This week, Blixt was first, first and second in the three major putting categories. That should come as absolutely no surprise as he ranks sixth in total putting on TOUR in 2012. How good is Blixt’s putting in context? It led to 21 birdies, which tied for the most in the field. Blixt only was T59, out of 72 players to make the cut, in GIR, so he made just about all of them as he only carded five bogeys on the week. He also destroyed the back nine as he played it 12-under for the week with only one bogey. I’ve learned the last two weeks that guys who hit GIR are just as equally dangerous of guys with white-hot flat sticks. One facet doesn’t overrule another.
Last week, Ryan Moore was surrounded by over 40 family and friends as he won. Blixt also had his close family, his brother and sister from Sweden were in town this week and last, by his side as he won his first tournament. He mentioned in the post-round interview that having them around helped him not think about golf between rounds. All of these guys have extreme talent but sometimes it’s just the level of comfort that makes the difference. Watch out this coming week for the guys who live on Sea Island (or Jonas Blixt!) or who have their families with them for the week. It’s just that fine of a line for these guys to get that switch flipped.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
In 42 weeks of stroke play tournaments, 27 third round leaders failed to lift the trophy in 2012 as John Mallinger adds his name to this list. Mallinger, who was also looking for his first-career victory, is now 0-2 in leading after 54 holes in his career.
Jonas Blixt joins Bryce Molder and Rocco Mediate as the only winners of this tournament since it has moved to CordeValle in 2010.
Blixt joins Carl Pettersson as the second Swedish-born player to win on TOUR in 2012. Pettersson won the RBC Heritage in April.
Americans now have registered 31 victories in 43 events as Jonas Blixt adds his name to the list of foreign-born winners. Rory McIlroy (4), Tiger Woods (3), Zach Johnson (2), Jason Dufner (2), Hunter Mahan (2) and Brandt Snedeker (2) are the multiple-winners on TOUR in 2012. The only foreign-born players to win in 2012 are Rory McIlroy (Honda, PGA, DBC and BMW), Justin Rose (WGC-CC), Luke Donald (Transitions), Carl Pettersson (RBC Heritage), Marc Leishman (the Travelers), South African Ernie Els (The Open), Spain’s Sergio Garcia (Wyndham) and now, Blixt (Sweden).
Blixt joins the list of first-time winners on TOUR in 2012. He joins Kyle Stanley, John Huh, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner, Marc Leishman and Ted Potter, Jr.
With this victory, Blixt gains exemption into the 2013 HTOC and 2013 PGA Championship. He’s is also exempt for the rest of 2012 and through 2014. He also moves closer to the top 30 on the money list which would get him into the 2013 Masters so he still has plenty to play for in these final two events.
Blixt collects $900,000 for his victory. That’ll buy him plenty of Swedish Fish and Absolut Vodka!
“Young” Guns versus “Middle” Guns versus “Old” Guns
In 43 events on TOUR in 2012 the “Young” continue to increase the lead thanks to victories in the past weeks by Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Nick Watney, Snedeker, Ryan Moore and now Blixt, 28. The “Young” guns have locked it up at the top as they now lead 24-16-3.
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker TWICE (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy FOUR times (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26), Marc Leishman (29), Ted Potter, Jr. (28), Scott Stallings (27), Keegan Bradley (26), Sergio Garcia (32), Nick Watney (32),Ryan Moore (29) and now Blixt (28) are your winners.
The “Middle” guys are Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods THRICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35), Zach Johnson TWICE (36), Scott Piercy (33) and J.J. Henry (37) have been victorious.
Steve Stricker (44), Phil Mickelson (41) and Ernie Els (42) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012. At least 33% of their wins are majors! Tim Petrovic, 46, was T2 this week and almost added his name to this list!
Tim Petrovic: In 15 events started in 2012, Petrovic had been cut more times than not and his best finish was T16 in his second start of the year at Mayakoba. That was also his only other top 25 before Sunday’s T2 at CordeValle. His T2 finish only moved him to 201st on the money list so that shows you what kind of year Petrovic has struggled to put together. He’ll need another similar finish at the McGladrey if he is going to hit the top 125 in 2012 and another 67-64 weekend wouldn’t hurt either!
Jason Kokrak: Whereas Jonas Blixt torched the putting stats, Kokrak took the more traditional route as the rookie finished first in GIR this week. He made 18 birdies and only five bogeys en route to his best finish as a TOUR pro. He was another surprise finisher this week as he had only made 10 cuts in 24 previous events. After T9, T34 and T42 stretch in late February into early March, Kokrak’s best finish in his next 17 starts was T48. His T2 payday brought him up to 117th on the money list so he also has to have another solid finish or two to guarantee his participation in 2013. He’ll be encouraged that his worst round of the week was 68 and his best round was 66. We’ll see if that translates to the East coast next week.
Jimmy Walker: Two tournaments post his knee surgery, two top 10’s. He should have surgery more often! Walker will be kicking himself after an opening-round 73 (+2) but will be quite thrilled with his course-record-tying round of 62 on Sunday to vault him 36 places up the leaderboard to T4. That’s also a career-low round for Dyno-Mite! Sorry, that’ll never get old. Eight birdies and an eagle were offset by a lone bogey as Walker, playing the back nine first, put pressure on the leaders early. Walker MC here last year and you knever know how knees will knfeel the week following their first test, but he passed with flying colors. That’s three top 10’s in his last six and two of those are post-surgery results. In 2012, he’s now finished T4 three times. Walker is currently 43rd on the money list so he’ll be looking for one more podium finish to try and push him into the top 30.
Vijay Singh: It’s no surprise that he’s made 22 of 26 cuts this season and his T4 was his fifth top 10. Singh, who didn’t fire on the weekend in Las Vegas (71-74) last week, co-led the field in birdies this week with 21 and it wasn’t because of his penchant for racking up GIR, but rather because of his putter. Singh finished first in putts per GIR, T5 in putts per round and 10th in strokes gained-putting. Ok. Now, raise your hand if you thought he would be top 10 and rank only T27 in GIR this week? Riiiiiiiiiiiight. That’s 11 cuts on the bounce with four top 10’s for the big Fijian. He’s proving, even at his age 49, that he’s still a factor on TOUR, even on courses he’s never played before.
Alexandre Rocha: After firing 72-74 here last year and MC, Rocha fired four rounds in the 60’s to finish T4 this year. He finished the week T2 in GIR, second in strokes gained-putting and T2 in pars. He had his bases covered this week but that hasn’t been the case for much of 2012. Rocha, who MC last week in Las Vegas, had been playing some decent golf recently as he was runner-up to J.J. Henry in the Reno-Tahoe playoff back in August. He’s made $520,000 of his $596,000 in two of his 19 events played in 2012. He will need a couple solid finishes in the last two events of 2012 as he currently sits 128th on the money list.
John Mallinger: Looking for his first career victory, Mallinger headed into Sunday with a two-shot lead over Blixt. He established his lead by making 15 birdies, an eagle and only two bogeys through his first 54 holes. On Sunday, Mallinger bogeyed five of his first nine holes to dig him a hole too deep to climb out of at the end of the day. He rallied to fire two-under on the back but that left him two shots out of a playoff. Mallinger, more known for his ball-striking rather than his putting, finished, like Singh, “backwards” as well this week. He was T59 GIR and second in putts per round. In his last five starts, he now has finished fourth, MC, MC, T22 and T4 so he’s found some form. In two appearances at CordeValle, he’s finished T18 in 2010 and now T4. He should be on your list for 2013.
Jeff Overton: As I opined in the preview, he plays well in patches and he’s proven that theory in the last four events. He wrapped up the FedExCup Playoffs with a T7 (Deutsche Bank Championship) and T51 (BMW) before he parlayed his T13 last week in Las Vegas into solo eighth this weekend. In his last eight rounds, his best score is 66 and his worst score is 70 so you have to like the consistency right now from Overton. In his second round he made 17 pars and an eagle. I don’t remember seeing too many of those. Ever. Don’t forget, he was T6 at Sea Island last year so he will be among my favorites again next week as well.
Gary Woodland: Sometimes, I shouldn’t out-think myself as I re-tweeted Butch Harmon on October 8 saying “Gary Woodland working hard on his short game. Full swing is good. Should have a good week at the Fry’s.” Well, that’s his coach and he should know. The stats didn’t reflect Harmon’s optimism on his short game but he was T12 in driving accuracy and ground out 20 birdies, good for T4. Woodland’s hard work with his coach has finally paid off in a top 10, T9, his first of 2012 in 20 events. Woodland is 129th on the current money list but is exempt through 2013 after his 2011 victory at the Transitions Championship. Woodland has too much talent to get excited about top 10’s and fantasy players probably share the same sentiment. We’ll all keep an eye on his development with Harmon.
Russell Knox: That’s six in a row in the cuts-made department for the Scotsman and his T9 at CordeValle backs up his T13 in Las Vegas last weekend. Knox, who is known for his ball-striking, didn’t disappoint again this week as he was T4 in driving accuracy and T15 in GIR. He buoyed those numbers by also finishing 14th in strokes gained-putting for the week which resulted in his first career top 10 in 22 starts. His was No. 1 on the “Backdoor Covers” list for the Frys.com in my preview and he lived up to the billing. His two good weeks in a row will need to extend even further as he currently sits 157th on the money list.
“Hey, what ever happened to…”
Bryce Molder: The 2011 champion put up a hearty defense as he finished T11. If you went with the defending champ, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that he finished fourth in strokes gained-putting. That’s his strength and he definitely played to it. Now, after being cut in 2010, he’s won and finished T11. He will back on the list of favorites again (if he plays, obviously) in 2013.
Ernie Els: On a course where ball-striking is the way to success, the Big Easy didn’t disappoint on Sunday as his 66 ran him into a tie for 16th. In two outings here, Els has now finished T4 in 2011 and T16 so we know to keep him on our radar for next season.
Nicolas Colsaerts: He didn’t get any help from his putter this week but the big hitting Belgian was entertaining as he began the weekend at nine under. An up-and-down Saturday found him at level par for the day and Sunday left him short of birdies as he washed out at T35.
Patrick Reed: “Mr. Monday Qualifier” had the early part of the week off this week as he was brought to CordeValle on a sponsors-exemption. He repaid his sponsor by finishing a career-best T11 which included a crisp 63 on Sunday. He’ll need to double his earnings plus a few bucks if he hopes to jump into the top 125 in the final two weeks.
No money? Mo problems!
These gents are looking to finish No. 125 or better to guarantee their card for 2013. Money list position in ( )
Here’s the current “five up, four down (one guy, No. 125 is happy/scared/excited)” list
James Driscoll (120): Last week No. 118. Shot 75-76 this week to MC. Gulp.
Boo Weekley (121): Last week No. 119. Shot 72-73 on a ball-strikers course. Gulp part II.
David Mathis (122): Last week No. 124. MOVING ON UP! His T22 only moved him up TWO spots?!?!?! This must be nerve-wracking…
Trevor Immelman (123): Last week No. 120. Shot 74-72 to MC. He’s one of the very few that probably doesn’t care because he’s exempt for 2013 thanks to his Masters victory in 2008.
Rod Pampling (124): Last week No. 126. He finished T43 to jump two spots into the Promised Land. It’s a do-it-yourself-job!
Billy Mayfair (125): Last week No. 123. He finished T61 to drop two places but not far enough to be out of things. IF the season had ended tonight, he would be breathing a sigh of relief. It didn’t so he’s probably having a few Rolaids with dinner tonight.
Kevin Chappell (126): Last week No. 121. Fired 77-67 to MC. His 67 on Friday will at least give him a positive heading into next week.
Gary Christian (127): Last week No. 122. Fired 76-68 to MC. Sound familiar?
Alexandre Rocha (128): Last week No. 150. His T4 has given him an excellent chance to sneak in the back door.
Gary Woodland (129): Last week No. 143. Please page up for more details.
Chez Reavie (130): Last week No. 135. His T16 moved him up five places, but still five places short of Nirvana. He also needs 125 or better to keep his card.
Coming Tuesday: The McGladrey Preview and Golf Channel Fantasy Picks