Suzann Pettersen and Ian Poulter were the last golfers standing at their respective LPGA and PGA Tour match play tilts Sunday. David Toms, while not participating in the grueling hole-to-hole competition of match play, passed his own endurance test by coming back from a tortuous loss at the Players Championship to eke out a one-shot win at the Colonial.
First, Toms. Anyone among the golf punditry who expected the 44-year-old Toms to return to the winner’s circle for the first time in five years after his meltdown at TPC Sawgrass a week earlier? Probably not many. And yet, there was Toms, hoisting the trophy and donning another in a series of hideous victors’ jackets (plaid, this time) — seven days after losing the golf’s so-called “fifth major” in a playoff, and some 24 hours after blowing a seven-stroke lead at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I’m not dreaming, am I? This is actually happening, right?” Toms asked reporters after his final putt dropped. “Wow, I didn’t know if this day would ever come again.”
It was a long time between win No. 12 and No. 13, but worth the wait for Toms, who lost The Players to K.J. Choi in overtime when he failed to jar a short par putt. “To win after this time frame and to come back after what happened last week certainly means more to me than any other victory,” said Toms, whose 15-under for the week was one better than Charlie Wi’s score.
Toms’ rebound was the first time a PGA Tour golfer won a tourney after losing in a playoff since Phil MIckelson captured the Colonial in 2000. Mickelson had lost in a playoff the week before at the Byron Nelson Championship.
Some golf watchers believe a stroke-play winner deserves more credit than the victor of a limited-field match play contest, but tell that to Pettersen and Poulter. Match play offers a true test of a golfer’s mental and physical stamina.
“We played six rounds of golf,” Pettersen said, after canning a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to earn her first victory in 20 months. “It feels like a Q-School.”
Pettersen’s vanquished competitor, Cristie Kerr, echoed the sentiments of the 2007 LPGA Championship winner.
“It’s not only a test of golf,” Cristie Kerr told Golf Channel shortly after her loss. “It’s a test of physical endurance and mental endurance. I just kind of ran out of gas.”
In a tight final challenge in which she never led, Kerr uncharacteristically missed some key putts and opportunities down the stretch. She missed four putts within 10 feet, each of which would have won the hole.
Kerr’s ugly stretch included a lip-out at the 10th and a five-footer for par at the 11th. A10-footer on 14 to tie the game edged by the cup. Exhaustion may have been the culprit, according to the fourth-ranked player in women’s golf.
“Putting on the back nine really killed me,” one of the best wielders of the flat stick on tour (other pros consider her the most proficient with the short blade) said in a post-round press conference. “I don’t know, just struggling a little bit physically. I didn’t feel that great on the back. My eyes got really tired and it was hard to see the line and to feel the speed and I missed some putts I don’t normally miss, so maybe that had part to do with it.
“I’m one tired golfer right now and I’m disappointed, but it I left it all out there,” Kerr added.
Ian Poulter, who dispatched Luke Donald at the Volvo World Match Play Championship, was the victim of more physical punishment than match play normally administers. Poulter, golf’s resident fashionista, fell down a slope and into a mud puddle after swiping vehemently at a ball lodged in gnarly brush during Sunday’s finale.
Despite soiling his natty pink duds, Poulter came back and took charge of the match, because, like Kerr, Volvo runner-up Donald had no more fumes in the tank.
“I just ran out of steam a little bit,” Donald said to reporters. “I had some opportunities on the greens and usually I can do it in my sleep, but I struggled.”
Pettersen, who logged 103 holes on her way to her hard-fought win, provided a snapshot of the mental and physical toll match play can take.
“Match play can go either way. You can have an easy day out there and leave the course on 15 or you can have one, two, three extra holes,” said Pettersen, who overtook Jiyai Shin for the second spot in the Rolex Rankings. “You never know what to expect and you never know where it’s going to end. It really gets all of you when you have to play 36‑36, especially when it’s all on the line, every putt, every shot is on the line.”