Scott McCarron was a big fan of TPC Sugarloaf when he played it for the first time more than two decades ago, and still has a strong bond with the Greg Norman-designed layout, even though the course he played last week was 50 percent new to him.
Scott McCarron won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, which concluded Sunday in sunny, pleasant weather after two mostly miserable days, a frequent fact of life for the tournament during its years as host of both a PGA and Champions Tour event.
It was Scott McCarron’s third career win at Sugarloaf, the first coming in 2007 when the Duluth country club debuted as host of the BellSouth Classic, Atlanta’s PGA Tour stop since 1967. McCarron won again at Sugarloaf in 2001, when rain washed out Thursday’s first round and necessitated a 36-hole finish on Sunday.
Last year’s tournament concluded with 36 holes on Saturday to avoid expected severe weather on Sunday.
The rain for Friday’s first round of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic was almost as bad as it was 18 years ago when the first round at Sugarloaf was entirely rained out, but not so bad to prevent Scott McCarron from taking control of the tournament.
McCarron completed 16 holes in his first round before darkness halted play at 8 p.m., and held the lead at 4-under, one shot ahead of Monday qualifier Bob May. When he finished his first round early Saturday morning, McCarron was still one ahead of May after a 68, and expanded his lead to three after a 70 later that afternoon.
After a somewhat shaky start to his final round, McCarron briefly found himself trailing Joe Durant midway through the front nine, with the two players tied at the top at the turn.
McCarron regained the solo lead for good when he drove the green at the short, par-4 13th and made a birdie, and added another at the difficult par-4 15th. He maintained his 2-shot margin with three solid pars to finish his day and collect his ninth Champions Tour title since he turned 50 in the summer of 2015.
It took McCarron almost a year to score his first Champions Tour victory, but he had a second win in 2016 in the Schwab Cup Playoffs and added four titles the next year and two more in 2018. He has finished fourth, third and second the last three years on the tour’s money list, and moved up to No.1 for 2019 with his victory Sunday and the winner’s check of $270,000.
“I’m having a very nice career,” McCarron said of his post-50 golf life. McCarron played 20 years on the PGA Tour, with two of his three wins coming at Sugarloaf, including his last title in 2001. He was not a highly competitive player on the PGA Tour in his late 40s, but has been one of the top Champions Tour players since joining late in the 2015 season, and is challenging Bernhard Langer for the tour’s No. 1 ranking this season.
The win was McCarron’s fourth top-5 finish in seven starts in 2019, including a near miss last month in Newport Beach, Calif., where he finished one shot out of a playoff.
McCarron had played at Sugarloaf three times as a Champions Tour member prior to last week, and had compiled a trio of respectable but not entirely satisfying finishes. He improved from 20th in 2016 to 18th the next year and 14th in 2018.
Although McCarron said he had “never seen” the Pines nine before last week, he birdied three of the first five holes on it Friday afternoon after play was delayed for four hours. Pines was serving in the tournament rotation for the first time, as the Stables nine, ordinarily the tournament front nine, is undergoing renovation.
When the first round was completed Saturday morning, the scoring average (almost 75) was the highest on the tour since 2013 in a non-major. The weather Saturday was cold and damp, but seven players managed to break 70. McCarron’s 70 enabled him to take a 3-shot lead over Rocco Mediate, who shot 68, with four players tied at 142, including Kent Jones, who also shot 68 Saturday to get into Sunday’s final pairing, and former tournament champion Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Most of the action Sunday came early in the round on the Pines nine. McCarron began his day with a 3-putt bogey, but quickly got the shot back with a birdie on the short, par-4 second. He drove under the lip of a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, clipped a tree with his third shot and 3-putted again after an indifferent chip for a double bogey to drop into a 4-way tie for the lead.
He was joined by Jerry Kelly, who started birdie-birdie-birdie and was 4-under after six; Joe Durant, who birdied his first two holes; and Mediate, who made up three shots on the leader on the third hole. McCarron regained the outright lead when he birdied the par-3 fourth immediately after taking a double bogey that he said “re-focused me. I did a pretty good job after that.”
Birdies at 5 and 6 gave Durant a slim lead, but fell back into a tie with McCarron when he bogeyed the ninth. As the leaders made the turn, Kirk Triplett and Willie Wood were both one shot off the lead, with Kelly, Glen Day, Stephen Leaney, Ken Duke, Stephen Ames and Mediate all two back at 3-under.
Mediate birdied the par-5 10th to get to 4-under, and Kenny Perry eagled the 18th to cap a birdie-birdie-eagle finish to post 4-under with the leaders early on the back nine.
At that point, just about every player in contention other than McCarron hit a wall. Kelly had a birdie putt at 13 to close within one, but three-putted from about five feet and needed birdies at 17 and 18 to tie for second at 5-under 211.
Jimenez left an eagle putt short at 13 that would have pulled him within one of the lead two holes after hitting his tee shot in the water on the par-3 11th and making double bogey. He ended up outside the top 10. Durant lipped out for 13 at birdie and missed several more excellent birdie opportunities coming in, parring all nine holes on the back.
Kent Jones matched McCarron’s birdie at 13 and added two more for a 69 to tie Kelly (67) and Triplett (69) for second place. McCarron closed with a 71 to win by two at 209.
Perry and Jeff Sluman both recovered from opening 77s to tie for sixth at 212, with both playing their final 36 holes in 9-under. Perry shot 69-66 his final two rounds, while Sluman rallied with scores of 67-68. Also finishing at 4-under were Duke (68) and Ames (69). Wood (68), Leaney (69) and Mediate (72) tied for 10th at 3-under with Colin Montgomerie (68), who had an eagle and a double bogey on the front nine par 5s and four birdies on the back.
Day (70) and Jimenez (72) fell into a tie for 14th at 2-under with former champion Langer (68) and Vijay Singh (69). Singh was one behind McCarron going to the 18th hole Saturday before hitting three wedge shots into the water at the 18th for a 10, getting up-and-down on his fourth attempt. Singh carded five birdies on the back nine Sunday, the last at the 18th.
Although McCarron came to the back nine Sunday in a tie for first, he felt the key to his victory came earlier in the tournament.
“I would say I won the tournament really the first day. I shot 4-under in difficult conditions and I only finished at 7-under.”
Atlanta’s Billy Andrade was low among the Georgia contingent, going birdie-eagle on his final two holes Sunday for a 72 to finish 20th at 1-over 217. Andrade was among those breaking 70 on Saturday, posting a 69.
Coming off a playoff loss in the prior Champions Tour stop in Biloxi, Augusta’s Scott Parel tied for 33rd at 221, shooting over par in all three rounds. Parel lost a playoff to Steve Flesch at Sugarloaf last year.
Savannah’s Gene Sauers tied for 41st at 222, with Larry Mize of Columbus and Larry Nelson of Marietta both well back in the pack. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, playing on a sponsor exemption, posted respectable scores of 74-73 the last two days after struggling in the difficult first round conditions, beating playing partner Tom Watson on Sunday.