Wilson took care of all he could control in victory

January 22, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Mark Wilson starts every round of golf he plays with two long tees, one short tee, a quarter, a penny and a divot repair tool in his hip pocket.

He's not exactly superstitious. Wilson just likes the sense of order that ritual gives him as he embarks on an uncertain future over the next four or five hours and 18 holes.

"That's one thing I can control," Wilson explained. "A lot of things I can't. I can't control my opponents, bounces or the roll on the green."

Nowhere was that more evident than during Sunday's final round of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. His opponents were making birdies with abandon and Wilson was stuck in neutral, watching his three-stroke advantage quickly disappear.

But when the pressure intensified on the back nine of the Palmer Private Course at PGA West, Wilson regained control of his game as well as the tournament. He tapped in a 9-inch putt for his first birdie of the day at No. 11 and holed a bunker shot for another at the 12th, an unexpected development that "gave me the momentum to go in the right direction," Wilson said.

He and Robert Garrigus then traded birdie putts at the 16th to separate themselves from the crowd before a missed 6-footer at the next gave Wilson the upper hand he would not relinquish. Not even with Garrigus staring down a 28-footer for eagle as darkness enveloped the the 18th hole. Not when his own successful 10-footer for birdie there would more than do the trick as it broke a inch to the right and curled into the hole.

"That's what we play for," a reflective Wilson said. "You want somebody to win it, not necessarily lose it. So it was neat to have (Robert) making birdies back and forth. And I don't look at the leaderboards really, and I just happened to glance on 17 to see what was going on. ...

"But I reminded myself, I'm in position. You have a lot of thoughts go through your head; am I going to come out and play well and win or am I going to come out and play flat and finish 10th or am I going to have a horrible day and finish close to the bottom? You just don't know.

"I just tried to clear my head of that and said, This is what we play for, let's enjoy the day. Win or lose, let's try to be a good example out there."

Wilson ended up with a hard-fought, two-stroke victory over Garrigus, John Mallinger and Johnson Wagner -- the fifth of his PGA TOUR career. Two came in the first five events of the 2011 season and now he has another in the just third of this year. There's a reason for that, and Wilson, who didn't build on his early season momentum last year, has scheduled several longer breaks this season to make sure he is fresh.

"When I came out the last two years, I really just had a clear mind and really focusing on what I'm doing, not worrying about my standing in the world rankings or my standing in the money list or FedExCup or how I'm doing against or the players that week," Wilson said. "I feel like I'm more into my zone."

And he certain was on the back nine Sunday. But as much as Wilson persevered with the pressure on, patiently waiting for the birdies he knew would come, Garrigus did the same after an extremely difficult start to the week.

The gregarious veteran had played the Palmer Course on Thursday, starting on the back nine, and he double bogeyed two of his first three holes to put himself behind the eight-ball. In fact, he was 6 over standing in the 18th fairway that afternoon and wondering whether he could even rally to make the cut.

Garrigus' caddy, Brandt Henley, looked over at his boss. "Well, we're probably not going to win the tournament but let's do something," Garrigus remembers him saying. "And I'm like, you know how many birdies and eagles I could make from here on out?"

What about 30, Henley suggested. Well, turns out, he was almost right. Garrigus, who was tied for 126th after the first round, birdied the 18th hole and went on to play his final 55 holes in 28 under -- including a phenomenal third-round 61.

"It was just crazy how the week went because he's like, that was probably the best tournament I've ever seen in my entire life," Garrigus said. "Just because of the what we are thinking of on the 18th fairway on Thursday to what I was thinking of on the 18th fairway today, I'm like, Can you believe we actually have a shot to win this thing if I make this eagle putt?

"It was just, it was exciting and that's what we live for. And I got a lot of guts, and I don't like to lay down very easily. So it was a blast."