Short game lifts Mulder to first ACC title
Stateline, Nev. — Mark Mulder’s short game was deadly on Sunday, and he parlayed that into seven birdies to win the 2015 American Century Championship by one point.
Mulder, who had finished in the top 10 the previous three tournaments, finished with 82 points, two off Billy Joe Tolliver’s 2010 record. Eric Gagne, former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever, was second with 81 points after a 30-point day. Josh Scobee, the 36-hole leader, scored 22 points and took third with a 79. Mardy Fish (71) and former champ Rick Rhoden (63) rounded out the top five.
“It feels amazing, I’m not going to lie,” said Mulder, who won $125,000. “It’s something that I think about all year long leading up to this. I think anytime any of us ex-players, whatever sport we play, to be able to compete at a high level like this — I know I dwell on it. I know I think about it. I know I’m excited about it.
“So my whole year as far as golf goes leads up to this, and it’s fun to finally close it out. The last few seasons I’ve kind of put two and a half rounds together the last few years, and to be able to put three complete rounds together feels really nice.”
Both Scobee and Gagne were amazed at Mulder’s ability to get it close much of the time.
“No, not in a tournament,” Scobee said when asked about Mulder’s accuracy from the fairway. “Absolutely not. It was impressive to watch, because he (Gagne) and I, like I said, we’re trying to overpower the course. Mark would lay back and stick it closer.”
Mulder said he didn’t lay back by design.
“For the most part, some of the holes I hit rescue or 3-wood just because it doesn’t feel right,” he said. “I used to hit rescue or 3-wood on 8. Now that they changed that I hit 4-iron off the tee. I don’t think I ever hit anything on any of these holes more than a pitching wedge other than the par 5s.
“So all the other par 4s and all par 3s, it is pitching wedge or less. So it’s 54 or 60. And I have confidence in that. Some of those holes are kind of set up for a cut and I play a little draw.”
Mulder admitted that he told Golf Channel’s Notah Begay that he was going to win the tournament, and he told the media after his 26-point effort on Friday that he would be disappointed if he didn’t win the title.
“Wednesday when I got on the range for the pro-am, my first couple of shots I knew things felt good,” Mulder said. “I was in kind of the groove and knew I had an absolute chance. Because in past years I’ve had a chance and I didn’t play as well. So with the way I was swinging I was confident with the way I felt.”
Still, it was no walk in the park. Mulder and Scobee were never separated by more than two points through the first nine holes Sunday. Gagne got into contention with an eagle at 11 and birdies at 16 and 18.
“They put a lot of pressure on me at the end,” Mulder said. “I knew they were going to make a run because they didn’t play that well in the first 12, 13 holes. And both of them got it going there a little bit late — I was lucky to hold on.”
Mulder, trailing by five points (57-52) at the start of the round, made his presence felt with birdies at Nos. 1,2 and 3 to pull to within 62-61. Scobee managed just one birdie in that stretch. At the turn, the duo was tied at 69.
Mulder missed a golden opportunity to go ahead on No. 8 when he stuck a wedge to within 5 feet and lipped out the putt.
“I missed a couple short ones,” Mulder said. “I missed a 4-footer on No. 8. I 3-putted on No. 18. That obviously wasn’t the way I wanted to finish.”
Mulder took the lead for good with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 to take a 75-70 lead on Scobee. Gagne eagled the par-4 11th to get to 68 points. Mulder did bogey No. 12, but still maintained a four-point lead, 75-71, over Scobee.
“Well, I birdied, what, 10 and 11,” Mulder said. “I was feeling really good about myself, to be honest with you, is what happened. And I just got a little carried away trying to be a little too aggressive on 12. I hit it a little too hard. And the second I hit it I knew it was too much.
A birdie on No. 14 increased Mulder’s lead to 79-73 over both Scobee and Gagne.
Gagne closed the deficit to 79-74 with a par on 15, and then sliced it to 80-77 with a birdie on No. 16. Both Mulder and Gagne parred the par-3 17th, and Gagne went into 18 knowing that he needed an eagle or birdie to have a legitimate chance to win. For Scobee, it was pretty much eagle or go home.
Gagne hit a monster drive on the finishing hole that ended up in the trap, and he blasted out to within 20 feet, giving himself a chance to win. Mulder also reached the green in two and was about 20 feet below the hole. Gagne slid his eagle putt past, which essentially meant that Mulder would win even if he 3-putted, which he did.
“Yeah, you never know — in a way the last three, four holes are pretty reachable for me,” said Gagne when asked if he thought he had a chance to win. “I think anything can happen, but I think Mark was just so locked. I don’t think there was anything we could have done.”
Scobee agreed with a simple “yup”.
Gagne drew oohs and aahs from the crowd with his distance off the tee. When he got into tee shots, it sounded different than balls going off the tee from Scobee and Mulder.
For Scobee, the turning point was the 11th. He had a bogey, Gagne had an eagle and Mulder a birdie. There was a delay before teeing off, and Scobee hit a bad shot into the brush.
“That was a pretty good turning point for Mark and I because I ended up with bogey there,” he said. “He had birdie, so that was a big three-point swing. And that ends up being the difference in it. I’m not going to blame it on waiting like that. You just have to understand that that’s just how this tournament is.”
Scobee was happy with the way he played overall, however.
“I felt fine last night,” he said. “I had a good night’s sleep. I came out prepared, ready for today. I wasn’t nervous. Just didn’t go exactly the way I wanted. I had 22 points today, which if you told me I’d score 22 points and lose by three points, I would have said you’re crazy. Mark played amazing today.”
Scobee said he felt more comfortable this year than 2014 when he made his ACC debut.
“Last year I got in one practice round beforehand, and I’m the type of golfer that likes to know green complexes and to feel comfortable with approach shots,” Scobee said. “And so I didn’t feel comfortable last year. The first round it was just kind of hit and hope. And after that I just didn’t play well.”