Rick Rhoden puts up crooked number for ACC win
Sun News Service
When Rick Rhoden really needed a birdie on Sunday, he was able to roll one in.
It didn’t matter that his duck-hooked drive nearly landed out of bounds on the final hole. The former All-Star pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a recovery shot, pitched out of the rough within six feet of the pin, then drained the slick putt to claim his seventh American Century Championship title. It was his first championship since 2003 and culminated a record-setting week at the 19-year-old event.
“All I wanted was a chance on the last hole, a chance to make a putt. I couldn’t have asked for a better chance,” said Rhoden, who collected the $125,000 first prize to raise his career earnings in the event to $997,289.
Rhoden knew the putt was going in as soon as he hit it, giving him a one-point victory, 68-67, over retired NHL player Dan Quinn in the Stableford scoring format. Quinn watched the putt from the back of the 18th green; his only reaction when the putt disappeared was to lower his head and spit.
Rhoden only had an opportunity to win with a birdie after four-time champion Quinn scrambled to par the 18th hole at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
For most of the 54-hole tournament, Rhoden was staring down birdie putts, but time after time he came up empty.
“I hit the ball from tee to green, except for the last few holes (Sunday), probably almost as good I’ve done here. I putted bad. I didn’t even come close to making some putts,” said the 17-year participant.
As it was, Rhoden’s second birdie of the final round didn’t come until the 17th hole. He ran in a crucial nine-foot attempt that kept him within a point of Quinn, who nearly aced the 17th hole moments earlier, tapping in the one-footer to reach 66 points.
“I don’t know what happened the last couple holes, when I had to make them, it’s almost like I relaxed. You’ve got to make them, or it’s over anyways, and I hit two good putts,” Rhoden said.
Even though a backup on the 18th tee delayed Quinn’s final tee ball by 10 minutes, he drilled it down the right side of the fairway. But a couple of noisy kids caused him to back away from his next attempt, and when he finally stroked the 205-yard shot, it gave new hope to Rhoden and Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo.
Quinn’s ball glanced off a pine limb and landed to the right of the cart path in some heavy sand. Quinn initially considered chipping out into the fairway, but then decided to play an aggressive shot over a tree guarding the front of the 18th green.
Quinn got the desired results on his risky play as his third stroke landed just off the back of the green. He used two putts for par, but was upset that he didn’t force Rhoden to make eagle on the 18th hole to win it.
“I’m not consoling myself. Actually I’m still pissed that I didn’t birdie the last hole to win,” said Quinn, who shot a final-round 68.
Rhoden entered the final round with a two-point lead over Romo, but the Cowboys’ star seized the lead on No. 7 when he rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt and Rhoden three-putted from 30 feet for bogey. But a bogey on the next hole gave Rhoden a share of the lead, and Romo was unable to make anything happen over the final nine. The turning point may have been on No. 13 when Romo three-putted from 10 feet for bogey, while Rhoden executed a lengthy up and down from the bottom of the green for par to increase his lead to two points, 59-57.
Romo improved from 11th last year to third on Sunday. He needed an eagle on the final hole to equal Quinn but settled for a birdie to finish in a tie with Grant Fuhr at 64 points.
Rhoden also posted the lowest 54-hole medal play score, shooting a 3-under 213. Quinn was next at 215.
For the second straight year, the six-day event attracted a record number of spectators. Tournament media room director Phil Weidinger said attendance figures exceeded 31,000.