7:26 PM PST, January 25, 2014
LA JOLLA — They were the last players to tee off Saturday. That made them the best Three Musketeers the Farmers Insurance Open had to offer.
They were Stewart Cink (nine-under), Nicolas Colsaerts (eight-under) and Jordan Spieth (10-under). In golf, last is best as the day begins. The trio had the lowest scores after two days of battling the pride of San Diego, Torrey Pines. The idea is to start them last so the day could build around them.
They were an eclectic group.
Cink was like the daddy, Colsaerts the big brother and Spieth the kid.
Cink is 40, has been on the tour for 19 years, spent extended time in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings and will forever be identified as the man who won the 2009 British Open while spoiling perhaps the best golf story of the century — Tom Watson winning just a few months shy of his 60th birthday.
Colsaerts is 31, has been a pro since he was 18, won the 2012 Volvo World Match Play title and was the first golfer from Belgium to make the European Ryder Cup team. That was in 2012.
Spieth is 20, is celebrating the first anniversary of the start of his pro career at this event in 2013, has already won a tour event and is golf's current phenom. Those, of course, come and go about every two months.
They started the day at 9:45 a.m. and finished at 3:25 p.m. That was a round of 5 hours 35 minutes, which further debunks all this PGA blather about leading the way to eliminate slow play.
Perhaps slow means more drama. There was plenty of that, on a day when one of the most diabolic golf courses in the world left some of the world's best club-swingers wanting to break them over their knees. A total of 18 players broke par.
We pick up the Musketeers at No. 15, a long par four that, like all holes at Torrey Pines South, is lined with ankle-deep rough resembling steel wool, and has a green they apparently prepare by applying sealant instead of mowing. The players don't swing their putters, they nudge them.
Gary Woodland had just left the green, shaking his head. He walked up to it at 10 under par and the leader. He left nine under and would lose another shot before he finished, still the leader, but a slightly battered one.
It was 20 minutes before the Musketeers appeared on the horizon, and the luster of leading had long dissipated. Cink yanked his approach left, scattering the gallery; Colsaerts rolled 40 feet past the pin and Spieth, resplendent in rustic orange to honor his Texas Longhorns, settled a nice 165-yard approach 15 feet from the pin.
Cink chipped long and took a bogey, Colsaerts lagged well for par and it was time for the boy to be separated from the men. Spieth's putt, a downhill, sidehill slider any true hacker would hit 20 feet past, rolled smooth and true. Birdie and seven under par.
By the time they had moved to the par-three 16th, the scoreboard said Woodland had lost another shot and Spieth was within one. None of the three hit the green at 16, but Spieth had a tricky little downhill chip from the long stuff right off the green and coaxed it to within a foot for par. Cink made bogey from the left rough and was now living his name in relation to the leaderboard. Colsaerts, looking like a man hanging on to the side of a life raft, saved par.
Of his delicate chip, Spieth said later, with the casualness of youth, "I just had to bump it on the green."
On 17, another long par four (just your usual 442 yards), Spieth paid dividends for those who had waited for final threesome drama. After driving it in the high rough and just missing his approach — "If it lands two inches short, long, left or right, I've got a par" — he stood over a testy par putt that is the type of shot that, if made, wins tournaments. It rolled right into the heart.
"That was big," Spieth said later.
Now came the celebrated 18th. Par five, water in front, everybody watching. They set up the 18th at Torrey Pines to be a pressure cooker, and they got it right.
Colsaerts had slipped to two over for the day after his five-under 67 Friday. Cink had disintegrated, a la Tiger Woods, and needed a par for 78 just two days after he shot 64 on the North Course. Both needed holes to crawl into.
Cink yanked another approach shot left, got a free drop away from the bleachers, then chunked his third shot into a greenside trap and missed his par putt. That was 79 for a class guy who deserved better.
Colsaerts hit his approach into the hill between the water and the green and watched as it did what the hole is designed for — roll back into the water. Penalty shot, bogey, 75.
Spieth played it like the grizzled veteran he is not. He laid up in front of the water, wedged it high enough so it wouldn't roll back down, and two-putted. His 75, after his 63 Friday, didn't feel so bad.
He had played those last four holes one under par, or two better than Colsaerts and four better than Cink.
There had been much agony and only a little ecstasy for the Musketeers, but one of them, Spieth, still had reason to keep a thought high in his mind for Sunday.
The thrill of victory.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times