NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship was filled with pressure shots and plenty of nervous moments, typical of any PGA Tour event that goes to a playoff. And that was before Webb Simpson beat Chez Reavie on the second extra hole.
Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy and Chris Stroud — far removed from the lead — might have felt it even more.
All three of them were outside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings, on the verge of being eliminated from the chase for a $10 million prize. All three of them came up with clutch shots — an eagle for Stroud, birdies for Els and Ogilvy — to just squeeze in and advance to the third playoff event outside Chicago.
“There’s no better exercise than I’ve been through the last three weeks to really test your nerves, your game, your putting, your chipping, your driving,” Els said. “So I’ve really been under the gun. And I think it’s been good.”
It just didn’t feel great.
Els, a three-time major champion and former world No. 1, had to play the Wyndham Championship just to get into the FedEx Cup playoffs, and even then faced long odds at No. 118 in the standings. But he barely made it out of the first round to reach the TPC Boston, and he was on the bubble again Monday.
He was at 7-under par for the tournament, needing one more birdie to crack the top 70. Els holed a 15-foot par putt on the 15th, then made a 6-foot slider for par on the 17th to keep his hopes alive. Needing a birdie on the 18th, Els just went over the back of the green. Walking toward the green, he saw a scoreboard to the left that showed him projected to be 71st. It was the first scoreboard he looked at all day.
“I knew I had to get it up-and-down,” Els said.
It was birdie or out, and a chip some 5 feet by the hole was not what his nerves needed. Settling in over the ball with his belly putter, the putt was true for birdie and the Big Easy was mightily relieved.
“It almost feels like you’re trying to make the cut the way I played,” said Els, who has never missed out on the Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. “It brings out a little fight in me again.
Stroud, who started these playoffs last week at No. 106 and moved up to No. 75 after The Barclays, looked like he would easily advance to the third playoff event until nothing came easily in the final round. He was 4 over on the day and needed an eagle on the par-5 18th to crack the top 70.
He had a 2-iron from 232 yards when he changed at the last minute to a 3-iron and struck it perfectly. The ball crawled over the ridge, was inches from hitting the pin and settled just over 3 feet away for an eagle.
“After a long, lousy day … it’s nice to finally see that I’m not going home all empty-handed,” Stroud said. “So I get to go to Chicago.”
The last piece of theater came from Ogilvy, who was at No. 91 going into the TPC Boston.
He, too, looked to be in good shape when he holed out a bunker shot on the 13th. But he made bogey on No. 14, then another one on No. 16 that left him so furious he slammed his putter to the ground. His next tee shot went into a depression in front of a rock, and he had to take a one-shot penalty for an unplayable lie.
His last chance was to make a 20-foot par putt, only Ogilvy didn’t know it. He was at 5 under, certain that he needed to be at least at 7 under to get into the top 70.
“The truth? I thought it was over at that point,” he said. “Most of the day, I thought 7 or 8 was what I probably needed to be. So when you’re at 5 taking an unplayable 150 yards from the green, I thought I was pretty done there.”
He went just over the back of the 18th, chipped to 6 feet and made a birdie to advance.
“It worked out,” Ogilvy said. I get rewarded with a trip to Cog Hill.”
There was a little sarcasm there. Ogilvy’s isn’t a big fan of the redesign by Rees Jones. But he is happy to still be playing. If nothing else, it gives him one more tournament to try to play his way onto the Presidents Cup team, a big deal for a guy with a house at Royal Melbourne.