By Dan Reardon
This past weekend CBS traveled to the nation’s capital and made a return visit to a course that for years had been a stop on the PGA Tour. For 19 years, TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm was the site of various incarnations of a Tour stop. Roundly criticized by players for its design, burdened with a lackluster list of champions and drowned by a rain-plagued 2006 event that concluded on Tuesday of the following week, the course was removed from the annual rotation.
Its replacement, the Quicken Loans National (previously the AT&T National), was created to accommodate the game’s brightest star, Tiger Woods, as its tournament host. Over the next decade, the event bounced among three courses, most often Congressional Country Club, before landing back at a redesigned TPC Potomac this year.
The new course got favorable reviews from the field, but not because it rolled over and played nice. Over two days, Sweden’s David Lingmerth was dominant, with a pair of 5-under 65s, but his Dr. Jekyll weekday rounds turned into Mr. Hyde on the weekend. Two pair may win occasionally at poker, but Lingmerth’s pair of 73s on Saturday and Sunday dropped him to an anticlimactic final-pairing finish three shots off the winning total.
That 7-under total came from the fourth-to-last group out, Kyle Stanley and Charles Howell III. Each posted 3-under 67s to move to a one-hole playoff won by Stanley with a par. The 7-under total made Avenel the toughest stop of the year to date, two strokes harder than the 9-under win by Sergio Garcia at the Masters.
For Howell, there was no rarity in his showing. Idled for part of the year with a rib injury, the Augusta native made it his 16th bridesmaid finish of his career and fourth playoff loss.
Stanley brought his own déjà vu history to the win. In 2012, he owned Torrey Pines for three days at the Farmers Insurance Open and in the final round led by as many as seven shots. But at the par-5 18th, the then 24-year-old suffered a complete meltdown with an 8 on the final hole. He then lost the playoff to Brandt Snedeker.
The following week in Phoenix, he stunned everybody in the game by putting that disaster in his rearview mirror, posting his first PGA Tour win. With tears on the 18th green, Stanley explained afterward what the fortnight of emotions meant. “But I think it makes this one a lot sweeter, just being able to bounce back. You know, I’m kind of at a loss for words right now. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve gotten. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable turnaround.”
It would take him five more years to travel that bounce-back road again. As he had done in San Diego in 2012, he showed the same package of talents for three days at The Players Championship in May, playing in the final group on Sunday, tied with J.B. Holmes. In less dramatic fashion, he faded from the picture early with four bogeys in his first 10 holes, posting a 75 and ultimately finishing T4.
The rebound this time took a little over a month, but coming from four strokes back at Quicken Loans and leveling his playoff record at 1-1. The tears, again present, welled up on the final hole. “You know it’s certainly no fun. You never know if you’ll get back to and have a moment like this again. It makes this pretty special for sure,” he said. “I wish I didn’t cry so much, to be honest. But I have had a lot of people help me the last few years, and it has been a huge team effort. It’s good to put in the effort and see the rewards, and I think that is where most of the emotion’s coming from.”
The win puts Stanley back into the Masters field for 2018, and it puts him back into a major field at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale later this month. It will be his first major appearance since 2013. Major appearances, like eclipses, are special when they come around.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.