POTOMAC — The turbulent five-year journey to return to the same position Sunday on the 18th green at TPC Potomac jerked the normally even keel Kyle Stanley to tears.
Since 2012, when he last won at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, a touted career spiraled southward. Through the bungle, Stanley lost PGA Tour status, forcing the current 29-year-old to either find a new occupation or grind back through the ranks on the Web.com Tour.
After the trying circumstances, Stanley found elusive glory once again when he sank a knee-knocking four-foot putt for par to outlast playing partner Charles Howell III in a sudden death playoff, claiming the Quicken Loans National on the grounds of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
“It’s hard to put into words right now,” said Stanley, who shot a final round 66 to finish at 7-under-par, the highest score-to-par mark for a winner on the PGA Tour this year. “It’s just very special to get a second win. … I mean, there was some doubt there for a little bit. You certainly question if you’ll get back and have a moment like this.”
— Scott Abraham (@ScottABC7) July 2, 2017
Stanley started the final round four shots behind 56-hole leader David Lingmerth, who sat at 7 under, and seemingly never entered the picture until Sunday’s back nine. He bogeyed the first hole to fall five shots back, but then regrouped to reel off five birdies — two on the hardest holes on the course: The tricky 484-yard, par-4 sixth, and the narrow 560-yard, par-5 10th — on an unblemished final 17 holes. Stanley took his first share of the lead in a three-way tie when he parred the 360-yard, par-4 13th to stay at 6 under.
On the 299-yard, driveable par-4 14th, Stanley drove the green and two-putted from 25-feet for birdie, and his playing partner, Howell, dropped an emphatic 27 footer for eagle to join a two-way tie for first at 7 under.
“I tried not to think about it too much,” said Stanley, who also received a $1,278,000 payout along with his silver Capitol building replica trophy. “I thought I needed to go low today to win, but once I made a few birdies on the front nine, and the leaders weren’t really doing that much, it kind of occurred to me that if I just kept plodding my way around, we might have a chance. … Then I looked at the board and saw we were both tied for first.”
Both Stanley and Howell parred out from there, with a five-minute storm delay in between, to enter the sudden death playoff. The final four hole trek to reach the playoff didn’t come with ease, however.
Howell had to scramble on the 490-yard, par 4 15th to save par after flying his approach shot over the green. Stanley nearly sent his ball into the water on the 190-yard, par-3 17th, and had to get-up-down from the thick rough near the grandstands. With rain pelting, Stanley landed his chip to 10-feet, and then after the brief delay, sank the putt to remain at 7 under.
On the 465-yard, par-4 18th, Stanley pulled his drive into the crater-like bunkers on the left side, creating a blind approach into the green. Stanley plopped the difficult second shot on the center of the green and two-putted from there.
In the playoff, Howell III landed his drive in the right rough, while Stanley flaired it right beyond the patron ropes, but had a manageable approach with his ball settling into some grass that had been flattened by spectators. Howell and Stanley both missed the green with their approaches. Howell left his chip about 15 feet short of the pin, missing the putt to open the door for Stanley, who put it to four feet.
Like Stanley, Howell III attempted to buck his long victorious drought as well. Fresh off a rib injury, and trying to end a 10-year winless stretch, Howell III nearly dropped his 13 foot birdie putt on 18 to claim the title and avoid a playoff. But the putt burned the right edge, and while the line appeared to be spot on, Howell’s winning putt ran out of steam.
“I hit a really good putt in regulation,” Howell III said. “I thought I made that one. … I’m actually thrilled to be in this position. Would have loved to come out on top.”
With their finishes Sunday, Howell III and Stanley both qualify for this month’s Open Championship in Scotland.
Ninth-ranked player in the world, Rickie Fowler, made a hard charge in the final round to finish tied for third at 5-under-par. Martin Laird also tied for third. Marc Leishman, Keegan Bradley, Johnson Wagner, Sung Kang, Spencer Levin, Curtis Luck and Lingmerth all tied for fifth at 4 under.
Daniel Summerhays, who played in the final flight with Lingmerth and started the day in second at 6 under, finished tied for 17th at 2 under.
The Quicken Loans National joins the Masters as the only tournament to have the winning score-to-par mark not in double digits, and only 25 of 138 players finished under par. All week, golfers battled firm conditions, with greens rolling 13 on the stimpmeter and the rough nearly four inches long. The conditions rivaled a U.S. Open setup, putting more emphasis on hitting fairways.
“One of the more difficult courses I think we’ve played all year,” said, who hit 24 of 28 fairways on the weekend.
Lingmerth watched a 10-under-par score diminish to 4 under, and let his share of the lead officially slip away with a double bogey on the 470-yard, par-4 11th.
“It’s very tough if you’re not putting yourself in position,” said Lingmerth. “Struggled a bit over the weekend with that and I’m very disappointed. … This one’s going to sting a little bit.”