LA JOLLA — And you thought the 405 Freeway on a Friday evening gets congested. It has nothing on the bumper-to-bumper jam at the top of the leaderboard Sunday during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Scott Stallings finally managed to inch away from the traffic with a birdie on the par-five 18th hole on the rugged South Course, giving him the third PGA Tour victory of his career and a $1.098-million check.
Stallings shot a four-under-par 68 to finish at nine-under 279 on a soft day in which the course gave up more low scores than it had during the grueling third round but also retained enough of its muscle to keep anyone from building more than a one-shot lead at any point.
And there was nothing easy about his victory.
Five players finished one stroke behind Stallings at eight under, three additional players were only two shots behind, and six more one shot behind them. At various points Sunday, there were six players tied for the lead at eight under par, 19 players within two shots of the lead and 23 within three on a course that can create double bogeys out of the smallest mistakes.
Stallings, intentionally, remained unaware of what was going on around him.
“I wasn’t going to look at the leaderboard,” he said. “The moment you look at how someone else is doing, that’s the moment this place will beat you down. You let your mind go for one hole and you’re going to make double bogey really fast.”
There were 28 scores under par Sunday, compared with only 18 the day before, but the winning total of nine under was only a stroke improvement over the third-round total of leader Gary Woodland.
Woodland and Mark Leishman, playing in the final group, were the only two golfers with a chance to catch Stallings once he finished his round. But Woodland, one shot behind at the time, hooked his tee shot into a hazard on No. 17 on his way to a double bogey.
“I just made a bad swing,” Woodland said. “I probably got a little greedy….
“Before the round, I thought if I could get to double digits [10 under], I’d be good. Turns out I would have won it.”
Woodland wound up three shots back. Leishman, an Australian with one tour victory, finished in the pack in second with K.J. Choi, Graham DeLaet, Jason Day and Pat Perez.
Choi, who started 11 groups ahead of the leaders, shot the best round of the day, a 66, to get to eight under. At that point, it looked as if a playoff was almost inevitable, there were so many people around or tied for the lead.
“It was really congested,” Leishman said, acknowledging that no one was making a move to break away. “It looked like a birdie here or there would separate you. I thought if I could birdie the last three, it’d be a done deal.”
It would have been. But he birdied only the 18th, needing an eagle to force a playoff. It nearly happened.
Leishman’s third shot, from 100 yards, hit about 12 yards past the pin and spun back just past the hole. For a moment, he thought it was going in.
“Yeah, I did,” he said. “I knew it was a little bit left at the start; I was hoping I misread it a bit.”
Charley Hoffman, Ryo Ishikawa and Will MacKenzie were tied for seventh at seven under. Hoffman made some noise early when he got the first hole in one of his PGA Tour career on the par-three third. He added three more birdies to make the turn at 31, putting him only a shot off the lead. But he played the back nine in even par.
Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old who led the tournament after 36 holds, twisted an ankle Friday and shot his second consecutive 75 to finish tied for 19th.
The winning total of 279 was the highest in this tournament since Fuzzy Zoeller won at 282 in 1979.
Stallings said the setup wasn’t exactly like a U.S. Open, but the rough was just as difficult. “We had a single-digit winner,” he said. “There aren’t many of those on the PGA Tour.”