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Sunday's golf: English wins Travelers, beating Hickok in 8-hole playoff

Associated Press

Cromwell, Conn. — Six and a half hours in, Harris English was tired. His hamstrings hurt. His back was sore. After 80 holes in 80-degree heat, he was struggling to focus. Darkness was becoming a factor. He lost count of how many holes he had played.

“It’s hard to stay mentally into it,” English said Sunday after winning an eight-hole playoff — tied for the second-longest sudden death in PGA Tour history — to beat Kramer Hickok and win the Travelers Championship.

Harris English celebrates a birdie on the 18th green during the final round of the Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC River Highlands, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Cromwell, Conn.

“Hats off to him for a good fight,” said English, who shot a 5-under 65 to finish at 13 under and then rattled off seven pars in the playoff before holing a 16-foot birdie putt for the win. “We were both joking that somebody’s got to make a birdie sometime. I had that putt a few times, and I finally read it right.”

Both players birdied the final hole in regulation to force the playoff, which is second only to the 11-hole sudden death in the 1949 Motor City Open, when Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff were declared co-winners by mutual agreement due to darkness. Four other events have reached an eighth sudden death hole.

The eight-hole playoff was a record for the tournament, which went seven holes in 1961 (Ted Kroll) and again in ’62 (Bob Goalby), when it was known as the Insurance City Open.

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It was the second win this year and the fourth career victory for English, who finished third at the U.S. Open last week — and fourth in the pandemic-delayed U.S. Open in September. He won $1,368,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points, moving into second in the standings.

English sank a 28-footer on the 72nd hole to emerge from a three-way tie and finish at 13 under. Then he headed to the range to stay warm in case Hickock, who was minus-12 with two holes to play, could catch him.

The 29-year-old Texan, who had never won on the PGA Tour, couldn’t convert a 39-foot birdie putt on the 17th, but he knocked in a nine-footer for birdie on No. 18 to match English.

They played 18 again — twice — and parred it again — twice. On to No. 17, then 18, then 17, then 18, then 18 again: All pars. Hickok lipped out on two long birdie putts that would have won it; on the sixth playoff hole, English missed a seven-foot birdie putt to win.

The crowd at the 18th green chanted “Kramer!” and did the wave while it waited for the golfers to head back and forth to the tee. On the final trip down the 438-yard par 4 — their seventh of the day and 10th of the weekend — Hickok put his second shot 28 feet from the pin and two-putted.

English landed his approach 16 feet away and made birdie.

“I don’t know how many it went,” English said afterward. “That was incredible. What an experience, and the fans were awesome. They’re always great here in Hartford, and glad we got to give them a little show at the end.”

Hickok has never won on the PGA Tour. The second-place finish was his best ever, topping a tie for eighth in the 2018 Bermuda Championship that was his only other time in the top 10.

“I learned that I belong,” said Hickok, who was joined after the round by his wife and his puppy, Elvis. “It was a huge learning experience for me."

Four players were tied at 12 under after Bubba Watson bogeyed the 14th. But the three-time Travelers winner played the last five holes at six over to drop out of the chase.

“I’m glad that I was there, had the opportunity,” Watson said. “You know, I would love to do it again next week, throw up on myself again. It would it be great. I want to the opportunity and the chance to win.”

Watson’s collapse left Hickok — his 54-hole co-leader —- on top at 12 under with English and Marc Leishman, who had finished his round with a 64 two hours earlier.

English finished the fourth round birdie-bogey-birdie, skipping after the ball and pumping his fist after the final hole of regulation. Hickok’s celebration was even more emphatic.

But there was still a playoff to come.

“I never thought I’d be playing 27 holes today,” Hickok said. “I was just trying to put as much pressure on him as possible. He was trying to do the same. I put him in uncomfortable spots, he put me in some too, and he came out on top today, and that’s a true champion.”

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Leishman won the tournament in 2012, shooting a 62 on Sunday to come from six strokes behind and earn his first career victory on the tour. This year, he shot 64 in the final round and was the leader in the clubhouse for several hours at 12 under but settled for third.

With plenty of low scores Sunday and all of the leaders still on the course, he sensed it wasn’t enough.

“Nice to make a run and be around the lead,” said Leishman, who did head out to the range to warm up before English took his place. “Not holding my breath, but I won’t be going anywhere.”

Abraham Ancer (65) was fourth at minus-11. Kevin Kisner had his second 63 of the tournament — along with a 70 and a 74 — to tie for fifth at 10 under with Brooks Koepka (65) and three others.

A top-five finish would have moved Dustin Johnson back to the No. 1 spot in the world. But the defending champion shot 71 on Sunday to tied for 25th at 6 under.

LPGA

Johns Creek, Ga. — Nelly Korda powered her way to her first major championship Sunday with a performance worthy of her new status as the No. 1 player in women's golf.

Korda nearly holed out with a 7-wood from 243 yards for a tap-in eagle, and the 22-year-old American seized control by using her length from that graceful swing for another eagle that sent her on her way to victory in KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

She finished with a 15-foot par putt for a 4-under 68, giving her a three-shot victory over Lizette Salas at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

At 19-under 269, she tied the Women's PGA record to par last matched by Inbee Park at Westchester Country Club in 2015.

Korda won for the second straight week on the LPGA Tour — her third this year — and it was enough to become the first American at No. 1 in the women's world ranking since Stacy Lewis in 2014. Jin Young Ko had held the No. 1 spot for nearly two years.

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“I put in a lot of work,” Korda said. “To get three wins under my belt and get a major, I don't even have words.”

Her only mistake came when it didn't matter.

Korda seized control with an iron into the par-5 12th for the 8-foot eagle putt, a three-shot swing when Salas — who had to lay up on the hole — hit wedge over the green into a bunker and made bogey.

Korda made an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to stretch her lead to five shots with four holes to play. She ended 49 consecutive holes without a bogey by hitting into the water on the par-3 15th for a double bogey.

But she steadied herself with a pair of pars and played it conservatively down the par-5 closing hole over water.

Salas closed with a 71 in her bid to win a first major, and her first LPGA Tour title in seven year.

Korda's older sister, Jessica, was among the first to embrace her on the 18th green as the tears began to below, and before long the newest major champion was doused with champagne.

Jessica Korda finished much earlier — they shared a hug as Nelly was teeing off and Jessica was making the turn — though the older sibling had another reason to celebrate. She easily held down the fourth American spot for the Olympics in Japan.

PGA Tour Champions

Akron, Ohio — Steve Stricker won the Bridgestone Seniors Players Championship on Sunday at difficult Firestone for his second victory of the year and third major title.

Eight strokes ahead in the third round and four in front entering the final round, Stricker closed with an even-par 70 for a six-stroke victory over defending champion and Wisconsin friend Jerry Kelly.

“It was so hard,” Stricker said. “It’s so hard to have a lead. And then to play with a friend, Jerry, out there, basically it’s his home course. This is exactly what he grew up on in Madison, Wisconsin. He plays well here. I could tell that he was playing well and I’m just trying to hang on. It’s tough to play when you’re not that aggressive, but I’m happy. It was a tough fight.”

Stricker finished at 7-under 273 on the South Course. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain opened with a 63, shot 68 in the second round and 70 in the third.

Kelly bogeyed four of the last five holes in a 72. He was coming off a victory two weeks ago in the American Family Insurance Championship, the tour event that Stricker runs in their hometown of Madison.

“Just a good golf course,” Kelly said. “I mean, to shoot even par when you’ve got a lead like that, that’s tough. I would have had to shoot 4 under to catch him.”

Stricker rebounded from a bogey on the par-4 fourth with birdies on the par-4 sixth, par-3 seventh and par-4 ninth to make the turn at 9 under. He dropped strokes on the back nine on the par-4 11th and 13th.

He won the Chubb Classic in April in Florida, then squandered leads in the first two senior majors of the year, falling to Alex Cejka in the Regions Tradition in Alabama and Senior PGA Championship in Oklahoma.

“I knew that I had the lead in the other two and didn’t come away with a victory in either one of them,” Stricker said. “It was even harder because I had that in the back of my mind, so it means even more that I was able to come out on top.”

Wife Nicki worked as his caddie.

“It’s always great to have her out here,” Stricker said. “She’s a calming influence and we work well together. Yeah, it’s good. She still enjoys coming out, the kids still enjoy coming out, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Stricker has has seven senior victories after winning 12 times on the PGA Tour. He earned a spot in The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass next March.

“Looking forward to that,” Stricker said. "I got in this year on Thursday morning, so next year I get a little more practice and prep. Looking forward to that. It’s always fun to go to The Players Championship.

Fred Couples shot a 67 to tie for third with David Toms (70) at even par. Ernie Els (72) was fifth at 2 over. Jim Furyk (73) was another stroke back.

European Tour

Munich — Viktor Hovland held off a final-round charge from Martin Kaymer to become the first Norwegian winner of a European Tour event at the BMW International Open on Sunday.

Hovland (70) finished on 19 under to beat Kaymer by two shots after the German shot 8-under 64 in the final round. A bogey on the 17th left Hovland with a one-shot advantage heading into the final hole but he birdied the par-five to seal the win.

“I’m kind of glad it’s over," Hovland told Sky Sports. “It was a long day, it was very stressful, but it feels great and it will be nice to relax for a couple of weeks now.”

Hovland already had two PGA Tour titles from the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December and the Puerto Rico Open in February 2020.

Jorge Campillo (71) was third on 15 under, ahead of Victor Dubuisson (67) by one stroke.