Three players with Georgia ties – one a native of the Peach State, one who resides here and a third who attended college at Georgia Tech and lives a short drive from Savannah in South Carolina – all recorded runner-up finishes Sunday on the PGA or Champions Tours, two losing in playoffs.
Savannah’s Gene Sauers lost a playoff to Paul Goydos in the Champions Tour event in Minnesota, while former Georgia Tech golfer Richy Werenski, a Bluffton, S.C., resident, lost a playoff to Chris Stroud in Reno, Nev., in the PGA Tour’s opposite event.
The main PGA Tour event last week was the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC, with St. Simons Island resident Zach Johnson taking second to Hideki Matsuyama’s sensational final round 61.
Sauers lost in a playoff for the second time this year on the Champions Tour, the first coming early in the season to Miguel Angel Jimenez in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic. Sauers’ playoff loss in the Twin Cities area spoiled what had been a spectacular showing in the tournament for the 2016 U.S. Senior Open champion.
After making birdie on the par-5 18th along with Goydos to finish the tournament at 20-under 196, Sauers went for the 18th green with his second shot in the playoff, but came up just short in the pond guarding the putting surface. Goydos barely cleared the water with his second shot and made birdie to win.
Sauers hit 53 of 54 greens in the tournament, tying a Champions Tour record, and made just one bogey in the event before the playoff hole. He shot 66-64-66, playing bogey-free golf the final day until hitting his second in the water in the playoff. He shot 4-under on the front to lead Goydos by one at the turn before Goydos birdied 10 and 11 to take the lead. Sauers pulled even with a birdie at the par-5 12th and the two parred the next five holes before matching birdies at the 18th.
It was the sixth top-10 finish of 2017 for Sauers, who improved from 18th to 12th in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
Werenski , a rookie on the PGA Tour, needed a big week to give himself a chance to qualify for the Playoffs and got it. Werenski improved from 154 in the FedExCup standings to 121, and if he can maintain a spot in the top 125 over the next two weeks, he will make it into the field for the first Playoffs event and retain his exempt status for the 2017-18 season.
The event in Reno was played under a modified Stableford scoring format, with Werenski, Stroud and Greg Owen all finishing with 44 points. Stroud shot 64 the final day for 20 points, the highest one day total for the tournament, finishing with an eagle on the 18th.
Werenski put together an equally impressive finish, shooting a 66 for 14 points, 11 of which came on his final five holes. He almost drove the par-4 14th and made birdie, and holed out for eagle from 125 yards on the par-4 15th. He holed a 22-foot putt for a sand save par at the par-3 16th and birdied the par-4 17th after hitting his approach within eight feet. Werenski belted a 353-yard drive on the 18th and just missed the green on the par 5 in two, chipping to two feet for a birdie to make it into the playoff.
Both Werenski and Stroud birdied the 18th to remain in the playoff, with Stroud following with another birdie on the 18th for the victory.
Werenski opened with a 67 for 11 points, carding seven birdies and a double bogey on the 18th, his ninth hole of the day. A 66 with six birdies and an eagle on the 18th Friday gave him 15 points in the second round and put him in position to win going to the weekend, but he fell back a bit on Saturday with four birdies and four bogeys for a 72 and four points. He began the final round seven points behind Owen, and caught up thanks to his sizzling finish on the back nine.
During his four years at Georgia Tech, Werenski was teammates with fellow PGA Tour rookie Ollie Schniederjans, and enjoyed a solid career with the Yellow Jackets. He qualified for the Web.com Tour in his first attempt and played respectably as a rookie in 2015 before emerging as one of the tour’s top players last year, winning the BMW Pro-Am in Greenville, S.C. and finishing as runner-up three times, ending the year fourth on the money list.
After back-to-back finishes of ninth in LaQuinta, Calif., and 20th in San Diego, Werenski went from mid-February to mid-July without playing 72 holes in a tournament, but has played some of his best golf of the season the last four weeks to move into the top 125.
Werenski made his first mark as a professional in the final Golf Channel Big Break competition in 2015, winning the event to earn his first PGA Tour start later that year.
Johnson was stuck in the mid-90s in the FedExCup standings before consecutive finishes of fifth in the John Deere, T14 in the British Open and his runner-up showing in the Bridgestone moved him up to 36rd and improved his World Golf Ranking to 40 after being outside the top 70.
Scores of 69-67-65 gave Johnson a share of the lead with Thomas Pieters, carding 17 birdies over the first three rounds including eight in a Saturday 65. He closed with a respectable 68, but Matsuyama surged past him, going out in 30 to take the lead and coming home in 31 to win by five after beginning the final round trailing by two.
Barring an exceptional run from the PGA through the FedExCup Playoffs, Johnson will miss the Presidents Cup team for just the second time since making his first appearance in 2007. Since ’06, he has competed in all but two Presidents Cup/Ryder Cup teams, and at the age of 41 will not have many more chances to play for a U.S. team.