Loses late lead, playoff at Quail Hollow
Since his outstanding PGA Tour season in 2013, Roberto Castro has been searching to re-locate the game that landed him in the Tour Championship at East Lake in just his second season in golf’s major leagues.
Castro finished 21st in the FedExCup standings in 2013 and seemed headed for a prosperous PGA Tour career after a successful early stretch as a pro on mini-tours and the Web.com Tour.
A poor season in 2014 cost Castro his exempt PGA Tour status after he narrowly missed finishing in the top 25 of the Web.com Finals.
Things got even worse last year, but Castro managed to salvage his season with three straight top-10 finishes in the Web.com Finals to regain his PGA Tour status for 2015-16.
Castro will not have to worry about going back to the Web.com Finals for a third straight year, taking care of that concern with his runner-up finish in the recent Wells Fargo Classic at Quail Hollow in Charlotte.
The 30-year-old Atlanta resident, a 2007 Georgia Tech graduate, nearly scored his first PGA Tour victory that week, losing in a playoff to James Hahn after playing in the final group in both the third and fourth rounds.
Thanks to his runner-up finish, Castro earned $788,400, vaulted to 33rd in the FedExCup standings, assured his exempt status for 2017 and put himself in position to make a second appearance at East Lake this Fall.
Castro, whose best previous finish on the PGA Tour was solo second at Congressional in 2013, held the lead late on the back nine in the final round at Quail Hollow, but had to battle his way into a playoff with a clutch par on the demanding finishing hole after taking bogey on both 16 and 17.
“I feel like just a lot of positives,” Castro said when asked what he would take away from the narrow miss in his attempt to score his first PGA Tour victory.
“I hit two shots I didn’t like on 16 and 17, but that’s OK. It’s something I’ll work on. I made a lot of good putts on the back nine. I made a great putt to get in the playoff. I’ll be in this position again and tell myself I’ve made a six or eight-footer to get a chance to win a tournament and try to do it again.”
Castro is hoping to use the Charlotte tournament as a springboard to a strong finish to the 2016 season, much like he did three years ago.
“This is my time of year. I’ve always played my best golf from here in Charlotte through the Playoffs. So I felt like I was in a decent position for me heading into this stretch.”
Despite an 11th place finish several weeks later in the Memorial Tournament, highlighted by the low score of the final round (66), Castro slipped to 41st in the FedExCup standings going into the tour event at Congressional, where he had his first runner-up finish on the PGA Tour.
Castro’s long run of success three years ago began in the first round of the Players Championship the week after Charlotte. He matched a course record 63 in the opening round, and recovered from a shaky second round to record a top-20 finish. He was second at Congressional six weeks later, and followed with a tie for sixth in the Canadian Open and a tie for 12th in the PGA Championship in just his second start in one of golf’s four majors.
That got Castro into the FedExCup Playoffs, and he placed 25th, ninth, 15th and ninth in the four tournaments, closing out his career best year with a 65 at East Lake and a top-10 finish in the Tour Championship.
It would be a while before Castro played that well again. A tie for eighth in Charlotte was his only top-10 finish in 2014, and after finishing outside the top 125 in the FedExCup standings, just missed regaining his exempt status in the Web.com Finals despite a tie for 10th in a Finals event, also in Charlotte.
The 2015 season was almost a total washout for Castro until he recorded three straight top 10s in the Web.com Finals, highlighted by a tie for second in Columbus, O.
In his third start of the 2015-16 season, Castro opened with a 62 in the second-tier event in Mississippi, but fell back with a poor third round and tied for fourth. Since then, Castro has had several more fast starts followed by halting finishes, including Pebble Beach, where he was among the leaders throughout the tournament before closing with a 74 to tie for eighth.
In Houston the week before the Masters, Castro shared the opening round at 65, but was 2-over the final 54 holes and finished tied for 27th.
Castro took a slightly different path to the top of the leader board at Quail Hollow, shooting the low score of the second round (66) propelled by a 223-yard hole-out for eagle on the treacherous 18th to get into the final group Saturday. He remained in second place after 54 holes and was paired with tournament leader and former champion Rickie Fowler in the final round.
After weekend scores of 75, 74 and 76 the three previous times he contended this season, Castro played a solid final two rounds in Charlotte, posting back-to-back scores of 1-under 71 to get into a playoff.
With Fowler fading to a 74, Castro held the lead for most of the final round, notching four birdies and a lone bogey over the first 15 holes. Castro missed the green on both 16 and 17, playing away from the water guarding the opposite side of both putting surfaces, with a missed par putt from inside four feet on the 16th particularly costly.
Hahn took the lead going to the final hole, but bogeyed the 18th while Castro managed par after hitting his second shot – again from 223 yards – to the fringe and holing a six-footer for par to force the playoff at 9-under 279, one shot ahead of Justin Rose and two in front of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, who both shot 66 the final round.
Castro pulled his tee shot on the first playoff hole – the 18th – into the creek just off the left edge of the fairway, but managed to save bogey thanks to a choked-down 5-wood from a nasty sidehill lie, a deft chip that almost hit the hole and another clutch putt. Hahn made a solid par to win the playoff, leaving Castro with a $778,400 consolation prize, but no invitation to the Players Championship or the 2016 PGA Championship and 2017 Masters, at least not yet.
Castro will likely earn a spot in this year’s PGA Championship. A second Masters start next year depends on how well he plays the rest of 2016.
Since he moved to Alpharetta as a youngster, Castro has been a prominent name in the Georgia golf scene. He was one of the country’s top junior golfers, winning an AJGA tournament in the state and reaching the third round of the 2002 U.S. Junior Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club before losing to the eventual champion.
Castro was a first team All-American and the Byron Nelson Award recipient as the nation’s top senior golfer during his college career at Georgia Tech. Although he was one of the top players in the history of the school’s golf program with 20 top-10 finishes, his only victory was a tie for first place in Puerto Rico as a freshman. Castro won numerous academic honors at Georgia Tech, graduating in 2007 with the highest honor in Industrial Engineering.
During his early years as a pro, Castro won five times on the former eGolf Tour between 2007 and 2010, two of them coming in Savannah, and was the Georgia Open champion in 2009 at Barnsley Gardens. He played his way onto the Web.com Tour in 2010, finishing second in Wichita in August in just his third start of the year.
Castro played a full schedule in 2011, recorded 13 top-25 finishes in 25 starts and finished the year 23rd on the money list to earn a spot on the 2012 PGA Tour. He placed 77th in the FedExCup standings as a rookie, breaking out in 2013 with a highly successful sophomore season.
Even if the 2016 season does not match his efforts in 2013, this year has already been memorable for Castro, as he and his wife Katie celebrated the birth of their first child.