Charlie Wi’s superb play during the first three rounds of the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am had afforded him a three shot lead entering the final round on Sunday. Wi’s 15 under par scored at the conclusion of Saturday’s round had been reached by battling through trying weather conditions and the less than positive/inspiring play of the amateurs in his group. He needed only to replicate his play from earlier in the week at Pebble Beach to emerge with his first victory on the PGA Tour.
Two things stood in Wi’s path on Sunday: The pressure to win that he exuded on himself and the pressure of the power pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson playing ahead of him.
Surprisingly enough it wasn’t the hordes of spectators following the Tiger or Phil’s early charge into the lead that would primarily affect Wi on Sunday.
True, roughly 70-80% of the spectators at Pebble Beach were following the Woods/Mickelson pairing. But the simple minded horde had but one figure that they were cheering for: Tiger. And true to his form in recent years, Tiger failed to show up on Sunday, allowing Phil’s performance to have center stage.
Mickelson, who has played some of his best golf when paired alongside Woods, surged during the first six holes on Sunday scoring three birdies and one eagle to reach 14 under par. Yet in spite of Mickelson’s performance the “Horde” remained quiet, with applause that was barely audible to Charlie Wi’s group as Phil charged up the Leaderboard. In fact it wasn’t until the 12th and 13th holes that the Horde finally began to knowledge Mickelson’s superb play.
So for the first two thirds of Sunday’s final round Charlie Wi was largely left to battle himself and the demons that come from being winless in over 150 PGA Tour events.
Unfortunately for Wi, it was the pressure that he exuded on himself early on that would cost the golfer the tournament.
Having reached the first green safely in two shots, Wi missed daunting downhill 20 plus foot birdie putt with a nearly five foot break. Delayed for nearly five minutes by the Woods group teeing off on the second hole, Wi had ample time to contemplate a slippery short putt for par. Consequently, Charlie would lip-out back to back putts, resulting in four putts and a double bogey on the first hole.
With his lead down immediately to one stroke over his playing partner Ken Duke, the sighs of here we go again in reaction to Wi’s play were audible in the crowd and the largely 100 pro-Wi spectators following the group prepared for the worst.
Unpressured from Duke, who’s putter was dead on Sunday, it took Charlie nearly two hours to finally settle into his final round, finally birdying on the always challenging Par 3 7th at Pebble. However, by then the damage was already done, and Mickelson possessed a two stroke lead over Wi.
Charlie would go on to miss four consecutive birdie chances, all of which were near misses. But right at the moment when the horde of spectators in front of Wi’s group was beginning to forget about Woods and become fair-weather fans of Mickelson, Charlie made his first of two game changing shots on the 12th hole.
Hitting into a stiff breeze on the long Par 3, Wi stuck his tee shot to within 10 feet of a pin that was tucked into the narrowest part of the green and behind a bunker. Charlie confidently drained his birdie putt, moving to within one of Phil and injecting life into his small band of followers.
However, at the precise moment that Wi was slowly crawling back into relevancy and contention, Mickelson unleashed another charge birdying the 13th and 14th holes as well as sinking a ridiculous 30 plus foot par saving putt on the 15th. The roars for Phil from the fair-weather Horde steadily grew and during the same stretch of holes and Wi was unable to match Mickelson’s play, concluding with a bogey on the 15th with a par putt that lipped out of the hole.
At this point in the final round, Mickelson held a 4 stroke lead over Wi with three holes remaining to play.
From the pits of despair though, Charlie would miraculously drain a 30 plus foot birdie putt on the 16th, placing him three shots behind Phil. The energy and hope surrounding the final group grew with the knowledge that Mickelson’s victory was not a foregone conclusion.
Wi followed his birdie with his best shot of the day into the Par 3 17th, with a tee shot that was never in doubt of failing to within three feet of the pin. The spectators following the final group roared and standing on the 18th tee Mickelson knew that Wi had not surrendered.
Phil would play conservatively off the tee at the Par 5 18th, and less than 10 seconds prior to him laying up with his second shot, the crowded roared again as Charlie made his birdie putt on the 17th to move to within two shots of Mickelson.
The calm collectiveness of a major champion like Mickelson could not be unhinged though, as Phil precisely placed his approach shot on the 18th to within 4 feet of the pin. The celebratory sounds from the crowd surrounding the final hole provided Wi with all the information he needed to know that only a gift from the Golf Gods themselves could afford him the chance to catch Mickelson.
It was not to be as Phil made his putt, opening up a three stroke lead and officially ending Charlie’s quest for his first victory on the PGA Tour.
Wi would finish with a birdie of his own on the 18th, resulting in what some would say a haunting two stroke defeat. For if only he had parred the 1st hole, Wi and Mickelson would have heading into a playoff to decide the victor of this year’s Pebble Beach Pro Am.
Yet, Wi displayed heart and resiliency on Sunday afternoon, providing hope and excitement to a tournament which was largely held captive by the media and spectators’ fixation on the average play of Tiger Woods.
No doubt Charlie would have preferred a different ending, but going forward Wi should gain strength from the knowledge that he regained his composure and game during the final round on Sunday. And in a game that is 95% mental, perhaps this will translate into Wi achieving his quest for a win on the PGA Tour during the 2012 season.
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