MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ben Crane estimates he slept fewer than three hours before the final day of the FedEx St. Jude Classic. An important day awaited him. He’d endured deep struggles this season but began Sunday with a four-shot lead.
“I (was) just so nervous, so excited, so thrilled that my game has come around,” Crane said. “I did a lot of praying, lot of thanking God for some fun days.”
Crane was able to complete his wire-to-wire victory, his 3-over 73 in the final round good enough for a one-shot victory over Troy Merritt. Crane began the week at No. 150 in the FedExCup, with just one top-25 in 16 starts and leaves Memphis 41st in the season-long race.
He shot 63-65 in the FedEx St. Jude’s first two rounds, and played the first six holes of the third round in 1 under before play was called for the day. He started his 30-hole Sunday with a chip-in on his first hole. It was his only birdie of the day, but it was enough to win. He held a two-shot lead when he arrived at the 18th tee, then made a cautious bogey on the water-lined closing hole.
This is Crane’s fifth PGA TOUR victory and first since the 2011 McGladrey Classic.
“This win is different for me,” Crane, 38, said. “I want to treat it differently and I really want to enjoy it. I don’t want to act like there’s five more behind it.”
Crane had to face his golfing mortality this year. He needed to make swing changes this season to alleviate back pain that forced him to withdraw from the first event of the 2013 FedExCup Playoffs, The Barclays. He needed on-course treatment throughout his best finish of 2014, a T9 at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. He began to consider a future without the game.
“This has been a really tough year,” he said. “I had to finally become OK with golf not being in the picture. I just felt like things were going in that direction and so I just got to the place where I said, ‘Lord if it’s not golf, I will love You.’ But if it is that would be really fun.”
Golf is in his future. And that’s what made this win so meaningful.
Bill Rosinski of PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Ben Crane's clutch par putt on the 13th hole at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
GIVING BACK: Troy Merritt’s good deed didn’t go unpunished. He pledged at the start of the week to donate $100 per birdie to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Merritt made 21 birdies this week -- tied with Rickie Fowler for most in the field -- and finished second. Merritt moved from 194th to 111th in the FedExCup. He had made just three of 12 cuts before this week, and hadn’t finished better than 46th.
“I hit the ball actually pretty similar to the way I’ve been hitting it most of the year,” Merritt said. “I made a lot of putts this week. That’s what you have to do out here if you want to contend and be there on Sunday afternoon.”
This was Merritt’s best finish in 65 career PGA TOUR starts.
MOMENTUM BUILDER: The FedEx St. Jude Classic was Webb Simpson’s first start since THE PLAYERS Championship. His wife, Dowd, gave birth to the couple’s third child, a daughter named Wyndham Rose, on May 12. Simpson now will take some momentum into his home-state U.S. Open. He’s from Raleigh, about an hour from Pinehurst, and has a long-time love affair with the resort.
Simpson birdied Nos. 15-17 in the final round to shoot 66 and finish two shots behind Crane. The T3 finish is Simpson’s best since the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Simpson had arrived at the St. Jude having missed three of his past five cuts and finishing no better than 38th. His last top-10 in a stroke-play event came in February.
“It’s what I’ve been looking for for a few months now, it seems,” Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, said. “I came in this week feeling good after three weeks off, put together a good weekend and finally got some birdies there on Sunday.”
He tied for third with Matt Every and Carl Pettersson.
ALL SMILES: Watch as Ben Crane two-putts for victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and celebrates with his caddie on the 18th green.
Ben Crane wins the FedEx St. Jude Classic
PINEHURST PREP: How would Phil Mickelson rate his final start before next week’s U.S. Open, where he’ll try to complete the career Grand Slam? “Pretty good,” he said.
“The way I drove the ball the last two rounds, I had an opportunity to shoot really low. My iron play was poor and my putting was pathetic,” said Mickelson, who finished T11.
Mickelson switched from a standard putting grip back to the claw in the middle of Sunday’s fourth round. He also switched back to the Odyssey Versa #9 White putter he used to win last year’s Open Championship. Mickelson had been using a blade-style putter for the past several weeks. “Sometimes I just have to change it up to get a little bit different feel,” he said Saturday.
Mickelson hit 48 of 72 (66.7 percent) greens this week, ranking 12th in the field. He was 44th in strokes gained-putting. He putted worse than the average TOUR player in each of the final two rounds, according to the statistic. He lost 1.4 strokes on the greens in the final round.
Mickelson still does not have a top-10 finish in 14 PGA TOUR starts this season. His T11 matches his best finish in a TOUR event in the 2013-14 campaign.
GUST FROM THE GODS: Some misjudged wind may have cost Matt Every a chance at winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
“In the air, I thought I was going to have like a kick-in birdie,” he said. “Those are pretty deflating.”
Instead of a short birdie putt, Every's shot found the water short of the 15th green. He was unable to get up-and-down after a drop, giving him a double bogey and ending his hopes of winning in Memphis. He bounced back with birdies on Nos. 16 and 18 to climb back into a share of third place.
That finish was his best finish since his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. He’d made just one of six cuts since the victory.
Every has good history at Pinehurst No. 2, site of next week’s U.S. Open. He was low amateur in the 2005 U.S. Open there, finishing T28.
He made a 42-foot birdie putt on his final hole at TPC Southwind to shoot 70.
TOP TWEETS FROM SUNDAY
Nice way to finish a tournament. @fesjcmemphis been a good week but totally exhausted. Could sleep for a month.— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) June 8, 2014
I'm afraid 140 characters aren't enough to describe my last couple of weekends. Next stop: US Open.— Gonzalo Fdez-Castaño (@gfcgolf) June 8, 2014
ODDS AND ENDS
The last player to win on the PGA TOUR without a birdie in the final round was Justin Leonard at the 2005 FedEx St. Jude Classic. ...
The only other time Crane has held the lead heading into the final round was the 2005 U.S. Bank Championship, which he won by four strokes over Scott Verplank. ...
There were 10 past champions of the FedEx St. Jude Classic in this week’s field: Woody Austin/2007 (T53), Justin Leonard/2005, 2008 (T69), Dustin Johnson/2012 (T24), Harris English (CUT), Dicky Pride/1994 (CUT), David Toms/2003, 2004 (CUT), Jeff Maggert/2006 (CUT), Brian Gay/2009 (CUT), Lee Westwood/2010 (CUT) and Harrison Frazar/2011 (CUT). ...
R1: Ben Crane (63)
R2: Stewart Cink (66), Brian Harman (65), David Lingmerth (63), Camilo Villegas (64)
R3: Phil Mickelson (67)
R4: James Hahn (67)
TPC Southwind played to a 70.83 stroke average in the final round, and a 70.72 average for the week.
Category Leader Stat Driving distance Dustin Johnson 310.9 yards Driving accuracy Heath Slocum
44 of 56 (78.6 percent) Greens in regulation Carl Pettersson 53 of 72 (73.6 percent) Strokes gained-putting Ben Crane 2.2 strokes per round Most Birdies
SUNDAY PHOTOS: Click below for our favorite images from the final day at TPC Southwind.