Some people have found the end of a long weekend of golf at TPC Sugarloaf to be a stern trial by grass. For Scott McCarron, though, it tends to have the relaxed feel of coming home for Sunday dinner.
Sundays at Sugarloaf have put a lot of barbecue on his table, cashmere on his back and signature sneakers on his kids’ feet.
“This place is just very special to me,” he said, underscoring the obvious.
Because once more, the guy celebrated in style here this Easter Sunday, finishing off a wire-to-wire victory at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. For his third pro victory here — his first on the over-50 PGA Tour Champions — McCarron shot a 1 under 71 Sunday to finish at 7 under for the weekend and two shots up on four pursuers.
That’s actually a little closer than McCarron likes it here. As we said, this is like a theme park to him. In winning twice here in 1997 and 2001, back when the younger PGA Tour used to stop and play, he pulled three shots clear by the end of those tournament Sundays.
The golfer today is much older and a little bit wiser than the one who made his “regular” tour bones here decades ago (his two BellSouth Classic wins represent two-thirds of his all-time victories on the PGA Tour).
“The golfer today, I’m a lot more patient than I was when I was on Tour. I felt when I was on the PGA Tour I had to play my absolute best to win, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that, where I really didn't. I think I beat myself up a little bit too much because I put too much pressure on it,” McCarron said.
“Now it’s more of stay in the hunt, have a chance to win with three, four, five holes and see what happens. And when I do that, I know that I don't have to hit the heroic shot. I think the golfer today is a lot more patient and that's why I'm probably playing better now than I ever have in my life.”
That attitude came very much into play early in McCarron’s final round when he tried to make it interesting. He butchered the par 5 third hole, committing a double-bogey on one of the most straight-forward tests out here.
There is, unlike so many holes here, no water with which to contend. But McCarron did manage to find sand (a high-faced fairway bunker that left him only the option to hit out safely well short of the green). And a tree (his chip to the green went wide, wide left, ricocheting off wood to the front of the green. And then he got into a big disagreement with his putter, three-putting from 30 feet after an egregiously short chip.
His attitude afterward: Stay patient. And, darn, if he didn’t birdie the next hole. The healing had begun.
Playing one group in front of him, Joe Durant made the most aggressive move on McCarron, even momentarily wresting the lead from him with his fourth birdie over his first six holes. But after such a quick start, he turned in a Regular Joe back side, parring out over the final nine holes. Which wasn’t good enough.
“Yeah, I missed a couple short putts for birdies I could have made. But you know, based upon the state of my game at the beginning of the week, I'm very pleased with how I finished because I wasn't playing particularly well,” Durant said.
Those short missed birdie putts fell on the drivable par-4 13th and the par-4 15th, both holes that McCarron feasted upon. Birdies on both gave him the cushion at the end.
But when asked about what ultimately won the tournament for him, McCarron looked back to the rain-shortened Friday. “I would say I won the tournament really the first day because I played so good, shot 4 under in such difficult conditions. I mean, it was so cold and so windy. I only finished at 7 under, so that's what I would say probably led me to victory.”
What of John Smoltz, you ask? No, he is far too old to come back and close for the Braves. But the baseball Hall of Famer did have increasingly encouraging returns here as the weekend wore on.
Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Smoltz shot a 1 over 73 Sunday, which looked much better on the card than the 80 and 74 the first two days. His 11 over for the weekend, while 18 shots off McCarron’s winning score, was still as good or better than the four more elder major winners he was grouped with over the course of the event. That would be Mark Calcavecchia (11 over), Tom Watson (13 over), Larry Mize (13 over) and Larry Nelson (27 over). Smoltz finished T-61 in the 78-player event and took home $2,790.
Back at the other end of the leaderboard, McCarron won for the ninth time since joining the over-50 circuit full time in 2016. Only Bernhard Langer has won more over that period. And this victory will propel McCarron to the top of the season-long Schwab Cup points race.
One of the real under-valued players on this tour, McCarron is hardly under-valuing the experience.
“I’m having so much fun playing on the PGA Tour Champions. This is like a new lease on life for me for my golf career, but I also know that there's an end in sight. Because of that, I'm putting everything I can into these whatever, 10, 15 years. Langer’s at 61 playing great, so if I can do that and stay in good shape, maybe I could have a career as long as him. I don't think I can win as much as he does. But I'm having a very nice career.”
A committed North Carolina guy, McCarron won $270,000 Sunday. Certainly not enough to buy a place here at his favorite golfing development in the world should he ever decide to move, but it would be a very good down-payment nonetheless.
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