Alker wins epic 11-hole playoff at Cleveland Open
June 08, 2014
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
- Steven Alker and Dawie van der Walt battled for 11 extra holes until Alker came out on top. (Shamus/Getty Images)
MORE: Rd. 4 Wrap-up | Leaderboard | Photos | Winner's bag | Highlights | THE 25 standings
WESTLAKE, Ohio – Everyone was getting a little loopy around Lakewood Country Club as sudden death evolved into never-gonna-end.
Fans in a grandstand behind the 18th hole chanted “hip, hip, hooray” as they saw Steven Alker and Dawie van der Walt for a third, fourth, fifth time. The groans around the property got a little louder, a little longer with each burned-edge putt.
Van der Walt even said to Alker at one point, “is anybody going to win here?”
A fair question when you’re in the midst of an 11-hole playoff.
That’s not a misprint. Alker, a New Zealander, and South Africa’s van der Walt played 11 holes of sudden death at the Cleveland Open, trading pars the entire way until Alker stuffed one tight on the 18th hole and made a 3-footer.
“Very satisfying at the end,” said Alker, who bogeyed the last two holes of regulation to lose a late lead. “I wasn’t expecting to play that many holes today.”
No one ever does when going to a playoff. Indeed, this one was the longest in the history of PGA TOUR-sanctioned golf to crown a winner. Two previous Web.com Tour playoffs had lasted nine holes, and a Champions Tour event once went 10 holes. In 1949, the PGA TOUR’s Motor City Open lasted 11 holes until darkness hit in Michigan and Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff agreed to be co-champions.
There would be no co-champions here, not with so much at stake. Alker finished 26th on the Web.com Tour regular-season money list last year, one spot shy of a PGA TOUR card. He had a slow start to this year, withdrawing from the season opener with a wrist injury and only having a T19 and T20 to show for seven starts.
But this was a season-turning week, starting on Monday when he survived 36-hole sectional qualifying in California to make next week’s U.S. Open. In Cleveland, he fell in love with the 1921 A.W. Tillinghast layout and got into contention with a Saturday 65.
On Sunday he went out in 31 and was 8 under for his round going to 17, but Lakewood’s rough -- thick all week and then thick and soaked following a Sunday morning shower that delayed play for 79 minutes – snagged his last two tee shots.
A bogey-bogey finish put him in the clubhouse at 14 under and in danger of a playoff – if van der Walt could birdie the 72nd hole.
Sure enough, the affable South African (who looks like a cross between Ernie Els and Randy Quaid) sank a 20-footer to complete a birdie-birdie finish.
“I had nothing to lose, everything to gain,” van der Walt said.
And then the real fun was on.
The rotation of holes turned out to be 18-18-16-17-18-16-17-18-16-17-18, though both players had multiple chances to end the playoff before it reached record territory.
Steven Alker survives an 11-hole playoff for a win at the Cleveland Open
Alker missed two putts under 20 feet on the third and fourth playoff holes. Van der Walt came within inches of an ace on the ninth playoff hole, the par-3 16th, when he spun a 9-iron off a backstop behind the flag. The crowd tried to root it in and it just missed, settling 15 feet under the hole.
“Pretty scary,” Alker said. “I thought it was closer than it was.”
But it was just another par-par after both missed birdie tries, and a return to the 17th. There, van der Walt narrowly missed a chip from off the left side of the green, tossing his wedge in agony as his caddie fell to the ground.
“I thought there’s no way it’s missing (at 16), then (the chip) missed again. I thought I made it,” van der Walt said.
Both players hit the fairway again at the tough 18th hole, then after van der Walt hit a solid approach to 20 feet right of the pin, Alker stepped up with his best shot of the playoff, a 7-iron from 170 yards.
Jon Curran, who tied for fourth and played with Alker on Sunday in regulation, called him a “cool customer” who wasn’t rattled even during his bogey-bogey finish. That same customer bore no emotion as he walked up to the green and went through his routine.
After the putt went in, Alker finally allowed himself a fist pump.
He earned it.
How Alker did it: Hole-by-hole breakdown Playoff Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Course Hole 18 18 16 17 18 16 17 18 16 17 18 Par 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 4 Steven Alker 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 3 Dawie van der Walt 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 4