Rick Brown Review: 2016 Principal Charity Classic Was A Winner

Scott McCarron won the BellSouth Classic on April 2, 2001, in Duluth, Ga. Five months later, the PGA TOUR Champions came to Greater Des Moines for the first time.

A sweet 16 years later, the Principal Charity Classic welcomed McCarron as its latest champion Sunday at the Wakonda Club.

For McCarron, it was his first victory in a PGA TOUR-sanctioned event since that 2001 victory in suburban Atlanta. That covers 287 tournaments, the last 17 on the PGA TOUR Champions.

Sixteen years is a long time to wait. It’s also a testimony to the success of this tournament, which was played before record crowds and seems to get better and better each year.

This year’s field played for a purse of $1,750,000, which is close to what this tournament will produce for charity.

The 2015 event set a record by generating $1.4 million for the tournament’s “FORE Our Kids” designated charities as well as the “Birdies for Charity” program.

Beth Brady, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Principal, expects the 2016 event to set a new record for charity dollars. That means this tournament will have raised nearly $10 million in the 10 years Principal has served as title sponsor.

A crowd of 31,612 came to the Wakonda Club for Sunday’s final round, bringing the three-day total to a record 83,389. Attendance records were also set for the first round (25,058) and second round (26,719).

Many of those fans hung out at the “MidAmerican Energy Green Canyon,” one of the new fan-friendly areas unveiled this year. The “Green Canyon” included the 16th green, the par-3 17th and the 18th tee. Grandstands circled the 17th green, with an LED ribbon board created by local company Insane Impact to keep those fans informed. The new Hornitos Hacienda – home to “birdie margaritas” – was a popular “Green Canyon” stop as well.

The 17th green turned out to be a pivotal spot in determining Sunday’s winner. That’s where McCarron holed a 36-foot downhill birdie putt to take the outright lead he’d never surrender.

Thirty-six feet? Are you sure it wasn’t 30 or 35? No, McCarron will tell you, it was 36.

“I’ve been stepping off putts since I was 10 years old,” McCarron said. “I had a chipping lesson from Bill Rogers (a former British Open champion) way back then and he always had me step off my putts. So when someone asks me how far it was, I usually know. It was 36 feet, going downhill.”

McCarron put the wraps on his first career PGA TOUR Champions victory with a stellar second shot from the right rough on No. 18 that stopped just inside 10 feet from the hole.

McCarron made three practice strokes from behind the ball, addressed that ball and stroked it into the cup. A fist pump followed after the ball disappeared.

“Yeah,” he hollered, with a clap of his hands, as he walked off the green. And then he had to wait for the final two threesomes to finish before he could accept the trophy and the first-place check of $262,500.

McCarron didn’t watch the final two groups play the 18th on purpose.

“Out here on the Champions Tour we root for everybody,” McCarron said. “All these guys are my friends. I don’t want anybody to hit a bad shot. So I don’t even want to know what’s going on. I just want to do my own thing, and see what happens.”

Several players in those final two groups shook McCarron’s hand and offered congratulations.  The long wait – 16 years long – was over.

And it ended with some incredible golf. McCarron shot 68-68-65. He played his last 47 holes without a bogey. In fact, he had just one bogey the entire tournament. And when he avoided a second bogey on the par-3 9th on Sunday, he got the feeling it was going to be his day.

“I buried it in the lip on No. 9 and had a very difficult shot,” McCarron said. “I got it just over the green. I made about a 13-footer for par. That’s kind of what really saved the round.”

Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Billy Andrade both birdied the 18th hole to finish in a tie for second, a shot behind McCarron. Andrade’s closing-hole birdie was his record 21st of the tournament, erasing the previous tournament mark of 20 set by Gil Morgan while winning in 2006. Andrade wasn’t as fortunate. Victory eluded him.

“You know what?” Andrade said. “Somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose, right?  But I’ll be back next year.”

That will be June 6-11, 2017, a week later than this year. Another year of planning to make one of the best stops on the PGA TOUR Champions even better.

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter

Saturday Recap: Andrade Breaks Course Record, Fans Set Attendance Best

Billy Andrade tied for 10th in last year’s Principal Charity Classic, and it was a mood-altering experience. He shot 66 in the first and third rounds, but 76 in the second round.

“I played with Bernhard Langer on the first and third day,” Andrade said. “We were in the locker room afterwards and he said, ‘You shoot 12 under with me, you shoot 4 over without me. You need to play with me more often.’ I said, ‘Yea, no kidding.’”

Langer skipped this year’s Principal Charity Classic, but Andrade didn’t miss him.

Andrade shot a record-setting 9-under-par 63 in Saturday’s second round and shares the lead with Joe Durant and Todd Hamilton at 10 under par heading into Sunday’s final round.

Another record was set Saturday. The 26,719 fans who came to Wakonda set a second-round attendance record. Friday’s announced attendance of 25,058 was also a record for the first round.

Tom Lehman and Miguel Ángel Jiménez both birdied the 18th hole to finish at 9 under. Lehman, who shot 68, has broken par in all 14 career rounds at the Principal Charity Classic. He’s finished eighth or better in his last four appearances.

Jimenez, making his first appearance at Wakonda, bounced back from a double bogey at No. 7 and a bogey at the par-5 15th to finish within a shot of the lead with a 67.

Eight players head into Sunday’s final round within two shots of the lead. Rocco Mediate, the winner at the Senior PGA Championship last week, is at 8 under along with Scott McCarron and first-round leader John Inman. Inman was alone in the lead at 11 under until he hit two balls in the water and made a triple-bogey 6 at the par-3 17th hole.

In the 15-year history of this event, no one has ever come from more than two shots back to win.

Much of Saturday’s attention was on Andrade and his record-setting round of golf.

“It was a great day,” Andrade said. “I was going along pretty well, then I birdied 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18.”

Andrade also got off to a good start on the front nine, making three straight birdies starting at No. 3. After his only bogey of the day at No. 6, he bounced back with another birdie on No. 8 to turn in 33. Then came his 6-under 30 on the back nine.

“I didn’t get off to a great start (Friday),” Andrade said. “This golf course is pretty easy. But when you’re off a little bit it can really play hard, and it’s tough to hit these fairways.”

Andrade’s 63 is the lowest round shot in the Principal Charity Classic at the Wakonda Club, which became tournament host in 2013.  It was also a course record at Wakonda, which opened in 1922. The previous low, 64, was posted by Bill Glasson in 2014 (final round) and Bart Bryant in 2013 (second round).

It also tied the all-time tournament record in relation to par. Kirk Triplett shot a 9-under-par 62 in the final round of the 2012 tournament at Glen Oaks (par 71). There were also a trio of 63s shot at Glen Oaks: John Bland in the second round in 2002; Massy Kuramoto in the final round in 2007; and Tommy Armour III in the first round in 2010.

Durant shot 65 Saturday at a Wakonda course he’s had success on. Durant tied for second in 2015 and was seventh in 2014. He’s shot in the 60s in seven of eight career rounds here.

“It’s going to take a lot of birdies to have a chance,” Durant said.

Hamilton also birdied 18 for a second straight 67 to be part of a jammed leaderboard.

“I think it’s going to be great for the fans,” said Hamilton, who has a piece of the lead heading into the final round for the first time since he won the 2004 British Open. “We saw a guy (Saturday) shooting 9 under. It’s definitely gettable.”

Andrade and playing partners Jeff Sluman and Duffy Waldorf rode each other’s momentum all day. Sluman had a 68, Waldorf a 67. Their best ball was a 14-under 58. Someone in the group birdied every hole on the back nine.

Andrade, who won three times on the PGA TOUR Champions in 2015, lost a playoff to Esteban Toledo at the Allianz Championship this year and also finished fifth in last week’s Senior PGA Championship. He’s finished in the Top 10 in four of his last five starts.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Andrade said. “I feel good about my game. I know I’ve got to shoot a good round (Sunday).  I’ve just got to play my best and see if that’s good enough. Anybody can do what I did (Saturday). That’s how good everybody is. When they get hot, they can flush it out.”

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter