Miguel Angel Jimenez rolled his eyes and tugged his shirt just above his heart as he talked with media following his roller-coaster win Sunday at Fallen Oak.
He held the trophy high for the second consecutive year at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, but this one didn’t come easy. The Spaniard had to overcome an uncharacteristic collapse on the 18th hole to retain his title.
“I’m happy to defend it the way I defend it, yeah. I had some emotions out there, no?,” Jimenez said with a shy grin and a roll of the eyes.
Jimenez made a mess of it on No. 18 from the start, but he was a short putt away from preserving his one-stroke lead with a bogey. Instead, he missed to the left of the hole for a double-bogey, placing him in a tie with Gene Sauers at 13-under.
“It’s a pity enough to play all day so good, no?,” Jimenez said.
The two men entered a sudden-death playoff that began on the 18th tee.
Jimenez didn’t let his second chance at No. 18 go to waste.
“I hit a beautiful driver, beautiful 7-iron for 150 meters and just holed a 3-meter putt for birdie,” Jimenez said.
Sauers fell short in the playoff when his second shot landed in the bunker just short of the green.
Sauers set a course and tournament record on Saturday with a 63 and he followed that up with a 71 on Sunday.
On Sunday, he had six birdies and and three bogeys, including a crucial one on No. 17.
“I know I was going up the hill and I thought it was going to come back hard right and it never did,” Sauers said of his bogey on No. 17. “I just didn’t play enough break, just an awful putt. Hit a good second putt and it veered off to the right. So, you know, live and learn.”
Jimenez, who is known as “The Mechanic” for his high performance vehicles, tallied a 64 on the final day a year ago to rally from three strokes back for the win at 14-under overall.
The final round on Sunday was all about holding off Sauers,
Jimenez walked away with the winner’s prize of $240,000, but Sauers was pleased with how the record-setting weekend played out for him.
“I started on 10 and I started making birdies and clutch putts, so I was keeping the pressure on him and evidently he felt it a little bit,” Sauers said. “Heck, I played good. I stuck in there and, you know, what the heck, my playoff record ain’t too damn good.”
The shot of the day for Jimenez came on No. 16 when an errant drive put him behind several trees. Somehow, he found his way through a gap and onto the green.
“I went to hit a fade and I blow my driver there and then I got just a gap through there and I got a wedge 170 meters to the hole,” Jimenez said. “I get a wedge through the gap and I missed my birdie putt for three meters. Missed a few chances there also.”
Jimenez settled for a par on No. 16, but Sauers, who won $140,800, managed to put up a birdie to put him one stroke back with two holes remaining.
Steve Stricker had the hottest day on the course, putting together a round of 65 Sunday and finishing in a tie for third with Bernhard Langer at 12-under.
Stricker had six birdies on the back nine, but a bogey on hole No. 17 prevented him from joining in on the playoff.
“I played a good round, had a couple of opportunities on the front nine that I didn’t take advantage of,” he said. “I three-putted both (par-five holes). I kind of got off to a slow start even though I was hitting well. I missed a couple of birdies on the front that I had opportunities for. I was playing well and it kind of came together on the back where I started making some of the putts. I got momentum until 17 where I pulled a five-iron in there. All in all, it was a good day.”
Stricker, who will serve as the U.S. captain during the Presidents Cup in late September in New Jersey, enjoyed his first trip to Fallen Oak.
“I was learning the course really as I was going round,” he said. “I had one practice round this week. It’s a great course. I had a lot of fun playing it. It’s in tremendous shape. I look forward to coming back because it’s a good test.”
Poplarville native Glen Day finished off a solid three days at Fallen Oak with a 9-under, tied for sixth place. John Daly finished tied for 34th at 2-under.
MGRC officials estimate the crowd was between 30,000 and 40,000 for the 2017 tournament.