MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Only eight men have won a PGA event the week before a major championship. No one has won on tour, then gone onto victory at a U.S. Open.
Lee Westwood now gets his chance to be the first do just that. He gave himself a chance to join the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson when he birdied the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff Sunday to beat Swede Robert Karlsson at the St. Jude Classic.
It was just the Englishman’s second PGA Tour victory and first since 1998 to go with his 20 career European Tour wins.
“I like being competitive before a major championship, to be competitive with the tournament and boost my confidence,” Westwood said.
He became the first European to win in Memphis in the tour’s third-longest event dating back to 1958. The opportunity to win came when Robert Garrigus blew a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole of regulation with a triple-bogey to set up a three-way playoff. Garrigus bogeyed the first hole.
Westwood beat Karlsson with a 6-foot birdie putt after the Swede’s 43-footer came up short, then celebrated by dropping his putter and pumping his fist in the air. A nice win for someone who finished second at the Masters, lost a playoff in Dubai and tied for fourth at the Players Championship earlier this year.
“You try to do the right thing all the time,” Westwood said. “It doesn’t always work for you. I’ve been in contention a lot, especially this year, and I suppose I got a break today with other people’s misfortune but made the most of it and took a chance.”
He picked up the $1.008 million winner’s check for surviving the longest sudden-death playoff in Memphis’ history. He shot a final-round 68-270 total.
Westwood also became the fourth to win in his first visit to Memphis and first since Dicky Pride in 1994. He came in having played well, not missing a cut in his 10 starts on the PGA Tour this year with four top 10s. He had gone 122 starts on the PGA Tour since winning 1998 in New Orleans.
Karlsson, who won his ninth European Tour victory at Qatar earlier this year, still is looking for his first PGA title. He shot a 69, and Garrigus finished with a 71. Karlsson had a chance to win on the third playoff hole with a par putt from 5½ feet only to miss.
“I didn’t hit a good putt. You can’t take any chances with too many good players,” Karlsson said.
Memphian Shaun Micheel, winner of the 2003 PGA championship, shot a 67 and finished tied with Garrett Willis (67) for fourth at 271.
Westwood started the final round trailing by three strokes, birdied three straight holes to grab the lead. But he bogeyed No. 17 after flying an 8-iron over the green. He was preparing to head off the course when told to stick around behind the 18th green.
“It’s amazing how things pan out,” Westwood said.
Whether he gets to return to defend his title remains to be seen.
Many golfers and caddies wore maroon ribbons Sunday in support of this event, which benefits the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Tournament organizers have set a Sept. 15 deadline to find a new title sponsor. Smith & Nephew stepped in this year as a presenting sponsor, but tour officials prefer a title sponsor.
With Garrigus’ meltdown and the playoff drama, they certainly gave fans a show.
Garrigus, the 32-year-old pro from Scottsdale, Ariz., came into this event 377th in the world rankings and had never led a PGA event on the final day. The inexperience showed on the 72nd hole.
He put his tee shot into the lake lining the 18th fairway, took his drop and yanked his next shot into the trees left of the lake trying to go for the green with what he thought was a two-stroke lead. He punched out over the lake and wound up two-putting for triple bogey to at least make the playoff.
He called it “stupidity.”
“It’s little things to win,” Garrigus said. “I’ve got to learn that, and next time I’m in that position I’m going to do it.”
Playing that same hole again to start the playoff, Garrigus stayed away from the lake with a drive that landed behind a tree. His 13-footer for par went just outside the right edge for bogey as Westwood and Karlsson parred to advance.
Now it’s onto Pebble Beach for Westwood who played 45 holes combined a week ago before heading to Memphis on a sponsor’s exemption. Westwood plans to rest up a bit before Thursday’s tee-time with Ernie Els and Woods after slogging through a heat index that reached 110 Sunday.
But he will be working on hitting his driver and woods a bit too after often hitting right into the rough, including on No. 17 where he flew an 8-iron over the green. He said he didn’t make a big enough shoulder turn.
“You never stop working, even after a win,” Westwood said.
DIVOTS: Woods was the last to win a PGA event, then a major. He won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and then the PGA Championship in 2007. Mickelson won the Masters in 2006 after taking the BellSouth Classic. … Billy Maxwell won the inaugural event here in 1958, and Bob Lunn won in 1968 in making Memphis their first PGA title. … Since 1961, this event has had six one-hole playoffs and three two-hole playoffs. … This was the third playoff on tour this year and the 13th overall at Memphis.
Former Mississippi State golfer Michael Connell shot a 72 in Sunday’s round at the St. Jude Classic and finished with a 3-over total of 283. He earned $12,656.
Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press