Steele surges to Safeway Open victory

Home-state hero declares California crown as ‘awesome’

Gulf News

Los Angeles: Brendan Steele erased the bitter memory of last year’s final-round failure, finishing with three straight birdies on Sunday to win the rain-soaked US PGA Tour Safeway Open.

Steele, who led through 54 holes last year but carded a final-round 76 as rookie Emiliano Grillo powered to the crown, carded a seven-under par 65 at Silverado Resort in Napa, California for an 18-under total of 270.

He was a shot clear of 54-hole leader Patton Kizzire, who carded a 70 for 271.

England’s Paul Casey fired a 69 to head a group sharing third on 272 along with South Korean-born American Michael Kim and Americans Johnson Wagner and Scott Piercy.

Kim closed with a 67 while Wagner and Piercy both signed for 70.

“This one’s awesome,” Steele said of his second US PGA Tour title. “Home state, start the year out, know I’m going back to the Masters — that’s all amazing,” said the Californian, whose only prior tour victory came at the 2011 Texas Open.

“Then, this is a little bit of redemption from last year. I led through 54 holes here last year and even into the back nine and really struggled,” added Steele, who shot 40 on the back nine last year. “So it’s nice to close it off this way.”

Also encouraging for the 33-year-old Californian, it was his first win since the rules change banning the belly-anchored putter he used in his prior triumph.

“I’m really proud of that,” he said. “Making that transition has been tough.”

In a week marred by multiple weather delays as downpours made the course unplayable, Steele finished things off in style with a two-putt birdie at 16, an 18-foot birdie at 17 and a seven-footer for birdie at the last.

Kizzire had led going into the final round, having closed out his rain-disrupted third round on Sunday morning with a 16-foot birdie putt that gave him a one-shot edge.

He was three-under through 11 holes of the final round before a bogey at 12, and couldn’t find another birdie from there.

Kizzire can’t finish

He made a solid par save at the par-five 16th, where he was at the base of a tree off the tee. But after Steele’s birdie binge he arrived at 18 needing a birdie to force a playoff and missed the green with his approach.

“It was fun, it was intense,” Kizzire, entering his second season as a US PGA Tour member, said of contending for a first title. “My ball striking wasn’t there all week. I was able to get it on the green though ... my putting is what saved me. It was fun — I didn’t finish it off.”

The tournament was the first event in the US PGA Tour’s 2016-17 season and boasted few of golf’s marquee names.

Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who came into the event riding high on the emotion of America’s Ryder Cup victory, closed with a 67 that left him in a share of eighth, four shots off the lead.

Former world number one Tiger Woods had targeted the event for his return to competition after a 14-month injury absence, but the 14-time major winner thought better of it on Monday, saying his game was still not up to competition standard.