For the first two days of the 2013 Schwab Cup Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, San Mateo native Michael Allen played consistent golf. Perhaps the only shortcoming in his game was a failure to get close to the hole on his approach shots, which left him with long looks for birdie putts that just weren’t dropping. After a bogey-free 68 in the first round, which could have been two or three strokes lower had a few near-miss putts dropped, Allen came back with a 1-over 72 in Friday’s second round, birdying holes 9 and 16, but slipping back with a bogey at 13, and falling afoul of a huge Monterey Cypress that guards the most favorable approach to the 18th fairway for a double-bogey six.
If Allen’s first two rounds ran on a pretty even keel, Saturday’s third round was a carnival ride. The Scottsdale, Arizona, resident opened play on Saturday morning on a swooping high, sinking a 20-foot-plus putt – one of the longest he’s made this week – to card a very satisfying birdie at the 1st hole. His momentum stalled slightly after the opening hole, as he followed the birdie with a string of three pars, but his round was fated to be anything but boring.
Allen’s roller-coaster round picked up speed again with a pair of birdies at holes 5 and 6, thanks to crisp iron play which resulted in makeable birdie putts in the 6- to 10-foot range, but he ran into trouble at #8, the notorious par -3 which has played over par for the entire tournament. Fanning a 6-iron into the right front bunker, his chip, out of sand that was heavy with moisture from the fog-laden atmosphere, rolled out to 15 feet past the hole, leading to a two-putt bogey.
A string of four pars, on holes 9 through 13, was followed by a three-putt bogey on the fourteenth – another dip on the roller coaster ride – then a birdie on the 405-yard par-4 fifteenth hole. After three days of long leaves for putts that lipped out or scared the edge, today at the 15th hole Allen laid a stunning approach shot to 2-1/2 feet and tapped in for his only birdie on the back nine.
The following hole, the 336-yard par-4 sixteenth, is a birdie opportunity, and has played just under par for the tournament, but Allen found trouble when his hybrid shot off the tee ended up in the right rough behind a massive Monterey Cypress. With no more than 110 yards to the flag, and seemingly no room to shape a shot around the tree, it looked like an untenable position, with no shot at the flag. The feeling in his gallery was that he would have to punch out short of the green, banking on getting his third shot close and making the par putt.
Remarkably, after three or four club changes – and against the advice of his caddie, veteran looper Pete Bender – Allen pulled off a remarkable low cut that found the front of the green and rolled out pin-high, some 30 feet left of the flag. Two putts later he was out of the hole with a par, after an opening shot that had had “bogey” written all over it.
After the emotional high of pulling a par out of the 16th from that terrible position off the tee, Allen parred the 17th hole, a 175-yard par-3 that had a diabolical hole position today, and moved on to the 18th. The dramatic 440-yard finishing hole features a daunting carry over an inlet of Lake Merced, with the best line to the fairway guarded by another massive Monterey Cypress tree.
Allen’s pairings partner for the day, Esteban Toledo, aired his drive over the gap between the right-hand cypress at the edge of the fairway and a cluster of cypress and pine trees 40 yards further up. Despite the memory of the double-bogey that resulted when he tangled with the big cypress during Friday’s round, Allen stepped up to the tee with driver in hand.
It’s a solid 218-yard carry over the center of that cypress tree, a challenging effort for Allen’s typical low trajectory off the tee, and moments after he hit his final drive of the day, a dreaded sound rang across the water. It wasn’t the rustling whisper of a ball tangling with cypress needles and branch-tips, but the sound of solid impact, like the well-struck blow of an axe against a tree trunk. Allen, who, ironically, graduated from UNLV-Reno in 1982 with a degree in horticulture, must have wished he could take an ax to this particular tree after it thwarted his efforts to reach the 18th fairway for the second day in a row. His comments to himself as he started the long walk around the inlet of Lake Merced to survey his ball position were not for children’s ears.
After a drop from an unplayable lie on the bank below the tree, Allen hit a short, running punch to the left side of the fairway, then a pitch shot to the back edge of the green, leaving a slippery-looking downhill putt for bogey – which he missed, making double on the hole for the second day in a row.
Allen’s even-par third round dropped him another four spots down the leaderboard into a four-way tie for 19th place and another relatively early tee time for Sunday’s final round. Cool, damp weather is forecast for Sunday, with breezier conditions later in the day, so Allen’s 10:45 tee time may bode well for better playing conditions than the later-playing groups will experience. Taking advantage of the calmer morning conditions will be key if he is going to make a move back up the leaderboard on Sunday and end his 2013 season on a better note.