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Steven Alker’s late miscues are Retief Goosen’s golden fortune at The Galleri Classic

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Daily Wrap Up


    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    Steven Alker was cruising along at The Galleri Classic, seemingly in complete control on Sunday, holding his pursuers at bay, needing just a couple of pars to put the finishing touches on what would be his second victory of the young season. And then everything flipped on him.

    Alker, who had made but one bogey in his first 52 holes, three-putted the par-3 17th – making bogey there for the second time – and followed by hitting his approach into the water at the par-5 18th at Mission Hills Country Club’s famed Dinah Shore Tournament Course, leaving a door ajar.

    World Golf Hall of Famer Retief Goosen, with two closing pars, stepped on through, capturing his first PGA TOUR Champions title in more than two years, stealing victory away in the Tour’s second visit to Rancho Mirage, California.

    South Africa’s Goosen, 55, a two-time U.S. Open champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member, won for the third time on PGA TOUR Champions. He was just idling along on the back nine, racking up pars but making up little ground on the steady Alker, who was putting on a ball-striking display.

    Even with a 10-footer for birdie at the par-4 15th, Goosen felt as if he just had not done enough to challenge. But things got hectic on the final two holes. Goosen made a great save for par out of a short-side bunker to keep his flickering chances alive at the par-3 17th, where Alker three-putted after running his slick downhill first putt 8 feet past the hole. At the 531-yard finishing hole, both he and Alker found the right rough with their drives, just a few feet apart. Both had a decision to make. Lay up or go?

    Retief Goosen sticks approach to set up birdie at Galleri Classic

    The approach calls for a shot over water, and Goosen went first, thinning a low 4-iron that crashed woefully into the penalty area, seemingly drowning his tournament hopes, too. He expected Alker, his opponent and World Champions Cup teammate, to lay up and make birdie that way, but Alker instead ripped a 5-iron from 199 yards out that carried the hazard but hit the steep fronting bank and trickled back into the water. Goosen wedged his fourth from the other side of the water to 8 feet. Alker was able to drop just off the green, but from a steep uphill lie, his pitch from 35 yards finished about 30 feet short. He missed his par attempt, Goosen made his, and at 13-under 203, Goosen was the winner. The finish was stunning.

    Retief Goosen pars the last to secure win at The Galleri

    “I’m sure it’s happened, I can’t quite remember (when), but I’m glad it flipped my way,” said Goosen, who shot a bogey-free round of 3-under 69 Sunday. “It was a really bad second shot (that I hit), you know? Ball was sitting up quite nicely, and I was in between a 5 and a 4 (iron) and I thought I’d just hit a smooth 4, and I completely thinned it.

    “After I hit it in the water, I thought Steve was going to lay up and just go from there. But he hit it in the water, it was kind of a shock, too. We were kind of surprised at that as well.”

    Alker, 52, the Tour’s player of the year two seasons ago, was trying to win for the ninth time in only his 58th career start on the Champions Tour. Already this season he had won the season-opener in Hawaii, and he was on the verge of winning for the third time in his last six starts, dating to November’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Arizona.

    Steven Alker plays the flop shot to set up birdie at Galleri Classic

    Alker was a runner-up for the second consecutive year at The Galleri Classic, shooting a final-round 70. He tied for second along with Alex Cejka and Ricardo Gonzalez, the Argentinian who won in Morocco (Trophy Hassan II) to earn his card for the season. Gonzalez, 54, struggled mightily with his ball-striking, especially off the tee, but survived on grit and a classy short game to somehow shoot 71. At the 18th, he laid up in two shots, wedged close, and made birdie to tie Alker and Cejka, one shot back.

    Ricardo Gonzalez hits it tight to close with birdie at Galleri Classic

    Alker said afterward he didn’t make many mistakes tee to green, but certainly could have converted a few more of his birdie looks to make a difference. As for going for it at 18? He thought he hit the shot.

    “I had a super lie, could almost hit driver off the lie in the semi-rough there, that's how good the lie was,” Alker said. “If I hit rescue, then I flush it and it's gone through the green. So just got a little high on the face, a little grassy. It got over. I kind of flew the front, but just got maybe a little unlucky.”

    Cejka, 53, of Germany, whose three Champions Tour victories all have been major championships, made a sold run on the back nine, pulling even with the leaders when he rolled in a 15-footer for birdie at the par-3 14th. Cejka did some of the best work when it started to rain mid-round, evoking his play in difficult conditions last season when he captured the Senior Open Championship in Wales. Cejka got to 6-under for his round until bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16 dropped him back to 12-under for the tournament.

    David Toms, the tournament’s defending champion, became a factor early on Sunday when he went out on 5-under 31, a blistering start, at one point tying for the lead. He simply could not keep the pace. Even with a birdie at his final hole, Toms slipped to 2-over 38 on his second nine, and at 69, settled for fifth place.

    One key in Goosen’s victory on Sunday was how he had finished a day earlier (4-under 68) when temperatures cooled and the wind kicked up and players were giving away shots down the homestretch of the second round. Goosen birdied four of his final five holes and came within one turn of the golf ball from making it five straight to finish.

    “Conditions were tough yesterday, and I made up some ground on those finishers,” Goosen said Sunday. “Today, I got off to a slow start, managed to make a good putt on 10, and from there, I was just hanging in. ... Obviously the birdie on 15 was crucial. Then, yeah, Steven finishing bogey-bogey is all my luck.”

    As Goosen stood on the final green waiting for Alker to clean up his short bogey putt, Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins commented, “He looks like the cat who ate the canary. ... Five holes to go, Retief was a complete afterthought.”

    He left with the trophy. Alker stepped up with an incredible week of ball-striking. His 35 (of 42) fairways led all players, and he hit 46 of 54 greens in regulation leading the field, too. With only three bogeys on his week, he tied for fewest. Two of them just happened to arrive at the worst time.

    Australia’s Greg Chalmers, who made his way into the field via Monday qualifying, had a solid finish, shooting a closing 68 to tie for seventh to earn a spot into the Champions Tour’s next event, the Invited Celebrity Classic in Irving, Texas (April 19-21). That’s likely when we next will see Alker competing again. No doubt, it is going to be a long three weeks.

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