SAN DIEGO (AP/The Loop) — Scott Stallings had ambitions to be a baseball player until the Sunday afternoon he sat down to the watch the 1997 Masters with his father.
He watched Tiger Woods demolish Augusta National and the field to win by 12 shots with the lowest score ever.
For a 12-year-old in Tennessee, it was inspirational.
“At that moment, I quit everything, every sport I was playing, and said, ‘That’s what I want to go do.’ And every one of my friends thought I was crazy,” Stallings said.
On Sunday, he put his name on the same trophy that Woods has won so many times.
It wasn’t a replica of the Augusta National clubhouse or even a green jacket, but it was no less special.
Stallings crushed a 4-iron from 222 yards that barely cleared the water on the par-5 18th green and left him two putts from 40 feet for a birdie that gave him a one-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.
Woods, the defending champion and seven-time winner of this event, wasn’t around to see it. He missed the 54-hole cut on Saturday, an oddity in its own right and especially because Stallings’ biggest win before that was at The Greenbrier Classic, where Woods missed the 36-hole cut.
Stallings’ seventh birdie of the final round gave him a 4-under 68 and capped a wild day in which eight players had a reasonable chance to win in the final hour.
K.J. Choi had the low round of the tournament on the brutal South Course with a 6-under 66 to post the target at 8-under par. Jason Day and Graham DeLaet each made birdie on the last hole for 68s to join Choi.
Pat Perez, the San Diego native who used to pick balls on the practice range during the tournament when he was a kid, watched with a pained expression and a few choice words when a 12-foot par putt on the 16th and a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th narrowly missed. He made birdie on No. 18 to tie for second.
“It’s great and bad,” Perez said about his runner-up finish. “This is the one I want to win more than anything in the world, and I came up short. … I thought today would have been my day. I would like to be in that position again.”
Marc Leishman of Australia had the last chance to catch Stallings. His drive onto a cart path right of the 18th fairway bounced off a fan and kept him 260 yards from the green — he might not have gone for it, anyway — and his birdie made it a five-way tie for second.
But no one squandered a chance like Gary Woodland. He was one shot behind with two holes to play — one of them the 18th, which he can reach in two easily — only to pull his tee shot on the 17th into a canyon and three-putt from long range for double bogey.
“This will be hard to swallow,” Woodland said. “I felt like I kind of gave one away today.”
Woodland, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, closed with a 74. He tied for 10th, a testament to how packed it was at the top. Nine players had at least a share of the lead at some point. Nineteen players were separated by two shots on the back nine. One of them was Jordan Spieth, who had bogeys on three of his last four holes for a 75 to tie for 19th.
For all the emphasis on missed opportunities, it was won by a guy was only thinking about winning — but only after remembering a loss.
It was one year and one week ago that Stallings, who had a five-shot lead going into the final round of the Humana Challenge, came to the 18th hole needing a birdie. He hit a 6-iron from 220 yards, not accounting for the ball being slightly above his feet, and he watched it sail left and bound into the water.
That’s what he was thinking about Sunday when he had 222 yards to the front and was between 4-iron and hybrid to clear the water.
“I actually thought about 18 at Humana the whole time on 18 today,” Stallings said. “Not that I was like, ‘Oh, don’t hit it in the water,’ but it was, ‘Just make sure you pay attention to everything that’s going on.'”
And he did. The cool Pacific air. The hanging lie. Knowing that anything too long would make birdie just as hard as if he laid up. Only he wasn’t about to lay up.
“I was playing to win,” he said.
His caddie, Jon Yarbrough (whom Woodland fired late last year), told him to play it a little back in his stance and hit it as hard as he wanted. Stallings worried only about solid contact, and it was enough to clear the water before trickling back just off the green.
Yarbrough told him, “Let’s see what you’ve got.” Stallings had experience from a failure, which he attributes to his win on Sunday.
And he had his name on a list with Woods, the guy who inspired him to get started.
“Having my name close to his in a great event that he’s obviously dominated is pretty awesome,” Stallings said.
Better yet, that win earned him a trip back to the Masters.
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