Billy Joe Tolliver never believed he was out of the championship picture on Sunday, and as it turned out, he wasn’t.
Tolliver, who needed a birdie on the 54th hole to force a playoff, had a two-putt birdie on the third extra hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat Mark Rypien to win the 24th annual American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
“It’s satisfying coming back to win,” said Tolliver, who trailed by three points with five holes left to play en route to his fourth ACC title.
“I think today I’m not sure what my score is. I probably shot even par or 1‑under, something like that. But there were five birdies thrown in, and that’s what you’ve got to have. On Saturday and Sunday I made a lot of putts. That’s what you have to do out here. I played really well during that stretch. It was good to — I mean for my own personal feelings — to win one from behind.”
Tolliver and Rypien both finished with 67 points in regulation. Tolliver had a two-putt birdie on No. 18 to tie Rypien, who missed a birdie putt of 6 feet that would have won the tournament. It was the second straight runner-up finish for Rypien, who won the first-ever ACC back in 1990. It was the third playoff in tournament history, but the first since the tournament went to the Modified Stableford scoring system in 2003.
Mark Mulder had the best score of the day, recording a tournament-best 28 points to finish third with 66 points. Steph Curry, the second-round leader, faded down the stretch and tied for fourth with Chris Chandler at 64. Jeremy Roenick (15) and John Elway (22) tied for sixth at 61. Lucas Black (21) was seventh at 58 and John Smoltz (19 points) was eighth at 57.
Neither Rypien nor Tolliver were impressive off the tee in the playoff.
On the first playoff hole, both players hit it in the rough and ended up settling for bogeys. On the second playoff hole, both players missed the fairway, but managed to reach the green in two. Both two-putted for a birdie to send the playoff to a third hole.
On the final playoff hole, both players missed the fairway again. Tolliver punched out to the left side of the fairway. Rypien hit his second in the short rough. Tolliver put his third shot on the green about 20 feet away, setting the stage for the shot that ended the playoff.
Rypien, feeling a little pressure, plunked his approach shot into Lake Laimbeer, which guards the left side of the 18th green. The shot ended his chances to win or extend the playoff.
“I probably hit it 10 yards further than I wanted to off the tee and it rolled in the rough,” Rypien said. “And the angle I had the lake there, just 10 yards shorter, and I wouldn’t have had to worry about it. I just really made a poor, poor golf swing when it mattered.
“Yes, I knew Billy was sitting 20 feet (away) for birdie. If I snuck one in there tight and forced his hand… When you try to think about just tucking one in there, that’s when you don’t finish your golf swing.”
As bad as Rypien felt, Tolliver felt even worse. The two are good friends and enjoy playing golf together.
“When he dumped it in, me and my caddie both said ‘oh no,’” Tolliver said. “I looked right at Chip (Walsh, his caddie) and I told him you never want to win one this way. We’re walking up there and I told Chip that I hope he (Rypien) chips it in; I hope he makes 5.
“I wanted so bad to make that putt on 18, just to have a 4, where at least he can take solace in the fact that, well, he made birdie on me, that’s the way it is. But it was heartbreaking for Rypien. It was disappointing for me. You just want the best, and I felt for him. He’s a really good friend of mine.”
For Rypien, it pretty much came down to putting on Sunday. He had three birdies, but had numerous chances for others.
“Look at all the pins, the easiest pins for birdies,” Rypien said. “The pin at 12, just get it in that neck you have a good birdie chance. The pin at 14, I think, is an easy pin, too, get it over the bunker and it (the ball) funnels down there. And the pin at 16 is probably the easiest pin, if you hit a good drive. The 17th (the pin) is sitting right in the middle and 18’s up front.
“So it’s one of those days. Making putts out here is tough. Making putts at Edgewood is tough. Again, I had probably two of the easiest putts you could have, two 6‑footers, right‑to‑left on 13 that was dead downhill and left it short.
Tolliver said he came close to scoring what he felt he needed to win the tournament.
“I came in this morning thinking I needed 27 to win, and I think I got 25 or something,” Tolliver said. “But it’s just a grind out there. And to win it your first time, to get out there, you know, you’ve got to get some breaks on this golf course.”
Tolliver was referring to Curry, the third-round leader. Curry was sitting at 62 points after recording a par on No. 13, but he couldn’t pick up any ground after that thanks to bogeys on 14 and 15.
On 15, Curry put his approach shot in the bunker, and then barely got it out of the sand. With one foot in the trap and one foot out, Curry blasted his shot to a foot and tapped in for bogey. Curry had an opportunity for birdie on No. 16 when his second shot landed green high about 10 yards off to the right. His chip shot hit well past the hole and ended up on the left fringe. He managed to get down in two for a par to move to 63.
Curry put his tee shot on No. 17 in the bunker, but he blasted out and two-putted for a bogey to stay at 63. Curry managed a par on 18 to finish with a 64.
“I was pretty steady on the front,” said Curry, who racked up 10 points over his first nine holes. “I hit almost every green. My putts, I wasn’t able to make any of them. I hit it in the water at 14, but saved bogey with a nice long putt. After that I kind of got the chunks going and didn’t hit anything flush coming in . I didn’t have any bad holes, but I wasn’t able to score.
“I knew I was in the hunt. I knew I had a chance to win in the last four holes. I just hit a couple of bad shots off the tee wasn’t able to get myself in position to make a putt. So I think it was a lot of that, not knowing what to expect nerves‑wise coming down the stretch and getting in my golf stamina. I have stamina on the basketball court but golf shape is different.”
Curry was asked if he thought he could win the tournament while being an active player. He did admit to feeling some pressure.
“I hope so,” he said. “I think I showed I’ve got what it takes from a certain position. Obviously it takes a lot to win. A lot has to go right for you, but this is my second time here. So the more I play, the more comfortable I get, especially on Sunday.
“For sure, a little bit. I tried to block it out and stay calm. On 17 I thought I had a good swing, but then I just chunked it. I stayed away from the double bogey the entire tournament, which I’m proud of.”
Another guy who appeared to feel the pressure was Chris Chandler, who doubled Nos. 15 and 17. He also 3-putted twice from less than 10 feet.
Chandler and Rypien were tied from No. 9 to No. 14. Both had 64 and a one-point lead over Tolliver after 14. Chandler hit his second over the green on 15, chipped on and then 3-putted to lose two points. After a par at 16 to get a stroke back, Chandler hit it OB on 17 and took another double-bogey. Despite that, he still had a chance to get into the playoff after reaching the par-5 18th in two. Had he been able to eagle the hole he would have made the playoff. Instead, he finished with a birdie.