By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
CANONSBURG, Pa. – The safe play would have been something short and right of the pin, setting up a little uphill birdie chance. Worst case, two-putt for par and move on. Get to the house.
Ben Martin was having none of that.
“I had a good number for a little chippy 9-iron,” he said. “I took dead aim.”
Martin’s ball cozied up to perhaps 8 inches from the flagstick at No.17. Tap-in. No need for discussion.
He’d also taken an aggressive line at the drivable par-4 15th, chipping in for an eagle. Facing a 10-foot birdie try at No.18, Martin asked his caddie if he needed to do anything special.
“Make the birdie so we can win by five,” Derrick Redd said.
And so Martin did, capping a Mylan Classic coronation that only fleetingly seemed in doubt. Sunday’s victory was his second in the past six weeks, with a margin that matched the Web.com Tour’s largest of the season.
“The plan was to keep doing what I was doing,” Martin said, “and the results showed it.”
As sizzling as the South Carolina native has been over the past month and a half, staying the course was more than sufficient.
Sunday’s 4-under-par 67 was his third in succession, following an opening 66 on Thursday. At 17-under 267, Martin fell one short of Robert Streb’s tournament record set last year.
Beyond his two wins, Martin’s recent stretch also has included three finishes of sixth or better. Starting with the Rex Hospital Open in mid-June, he is a combined 96-under par for his past 24 rounds.
Of those 24 rounds, just one has failed to break par. All but six have been 67s or better. His scoring average during the stretch: 67.17.
“I really just enjoy being out there and having a chance to win,” said Martin, runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Amateur. “To be up on the leaderboard, it kind of gets your juices flowing. That’s really what makes it fun for me.”
Sunday’s victory came in far different fashion than Martin’s first. Heavy rains soaked the United Leasing Championship’s final round in Indiana, incurring a four-hour delay that left many players expecting a washout.
Instead, there was just enough time to finish the round, where Martin’s 67 was enough to get him into a four-man playoff with no daylight left to play. The quartet returned Monday morning, where they cooled their heels for 80 minutes while course workers prepared the soggy 18th for play.
Martin won with a par, as the others drove into hazards.
Though Martin began Sunday with a four-shot advantage on his nearest pursuer, he suggested that brought its own anxiety.
“You can get defensive out there,” he said.
Charles Warren, a fellow Clemson grad, texted Martin with a simple approach: “Just go shoot the lowest score of anybody out there and you’ll probably end up OK.”
Likewise, Redd told his boss on the first tee to play as though they were one shot behind.
“Don’t just take a knee and kind of coast in,” Redd continued. “We’ve still got to make birdies, because somebody’s going to post a number. We’ve got to stay ahead of that number.”
Sure enough, Kraft made his move with seven birdies in his first 11 holes at Southpointe Golf Club, reaching 10-under with back-to-back birdies to start his back nine. Two more birdies at Nos. 14-15 pulled him within two, as Martin strung together seven consecutive pars.
But Kraft found trouble off the tee at the par-4 16th, while Martin was tuning up for his virtuoso finish.
With the tee moved up at No.15, Martin smashed a drive that wound up pin-high in intermediate rough about four yards right of the green.
A week ago in Boise, Martin had chipped in for eagle on Hillcrest Country Club’s drivable par-4, which also happened to be No.15.
“They weren’t exactly the same, but they were fairly similar,” he said. “I think that’s how I got that good picture in my head. … I just tried to see it land on the fringe and trickle out onto the green. It went off just like I envisioned it.”
The big picture now could force Martin to do some thinking.
Sunday’s victory moved him to No.2 on the money list, just $34,435 behind leader Michael Putnam with three events left. Only No.1, though, locks in a higher priority category for next season on the PGA TOUR. No. 2 will see his position determined by performance in the Web.com Tour Finals.
Martin has planned to spend the next two weeks back in South Carolina, returning for the regular-season finale in Omaha. Putnam is entered in next week’s Price Cutter Charity Championship, before sitting out the following week in Knoxville.
If Putnam plays well in Springfield, would Martin consider cutting his break short?
“It could be something to think about,” he said. “But I’d say the chance I would play would be less than 1 percent.”
Martin would prefer to pin his hopes on a final-event showdown at the Cox Classic.
“I think if anything, I’ll be just as fresh,” he said. “After I won last month in Indiana, I had a week off and came back OK. I think a week off after a win is good. It lets you kind of come back down off that peak.”
As long as he doesn’t cool off too much, it could make for an intriguing finish.