STATELINE — Mark Mulder made history Sunday, becoming the first player to win three straight American Century Championships.
Mulder, who entered the day with a three-point lead over Derek Lowe and Mardy Fish, scored 25 points to finish with 73 points to win the top prize of $125,000.
Another record was the attendance. Tournament officials announced a crowd of 55,801, an increase of 16 percent from last year’s then-record mark.
Fish and Lowe tied for second at 62. Steph Curry, thanks to a tournament-best 28 points, was fourth with 60 points. Jeremy Roenick was fifth with 56 , and Mike Modano and Chad Pfeifer tied for sixth with 55s. Aaron Rodgers was eighth with 53, and John Smoltz, John Elway and Marshall Faulk tied for ninth at 52.
Mulder was well aware of the historical implications entering the final day of the event.
“Well, it was something that I knew coming into this, “ he said. “I knew nobody had won it three times. And, records are made to be broken. it’s cliché, but it’s the way it is., and I was very confident.
“My caddie (Kenny Overby) kept telling me to be patient that they are going to go in. We kept trying to make good putts, hit good shots, and worry about one shot at a time, and, you know here I am. I ended up winning so it worked out.”
Mulder admitted he did feel the pressure.
“I said to you guys yesterday how much pressure, the comments my kids made leading up to this tournament,” Mulder said. “They think it’s just the tournament where they get to run out on the green. And it’s really cool that I was able to back that up. Because if you think for a second I wasn’t nervous about it, I didn’t feel the pressure, you’re crazy.”
A momentum changer for Mulder came on the par-5 4th. Mulder had started with two pars and birdie to get to 53 points, three ahead of Lowe and six ahead of Fish.
Mulder put his second shot into the bunker pin high on the left. Lowe reached the green in two, but was 30 feet away. Fish was also in the bunker, but with a good lie.
“I had a 7-iron into the green,” Mulder said. “I was playing for a flyer lie, and I didn’t get it. It plugged in the bunker. I had a fried egg. I looked at my buddy, going ‘all right Kenny, let’s just make five.’
“I came real steep at it, the way you’re supposed to. Not that I really know what I’m doing. It hopped out, landed in the rough and rolled to about six feet and I made it. That was huge for me, and it was a momentum turner I think, for Mardy and D. Lowe, too. When you’re looking at somebody, at least where I was, you kind of go he’ll be lucky if he makes par…”
The shot enabled Mulder to pick up three more points and grab a nine-point lead over Fish, 56-47, and he had a five-shot edge over Lowe, who three-putted for a par.
“I walked off the green saying that was one of the best plays that’s ever happened,” Mulder said.
Lowe, who had three birdies on the front nine, was tied with Mulder heading into the final nine holes after rolling in birdies on Nos. 6 and 7.
The sweet-swinging Mulder opened the back nine with three straight pars before draining a 10-footer for birdie on the par-4 13th to get to 66 points and claim a three-point lead over Lowe, who had three pars and a bogey in that span. Fish had two pars and two bogeys in that span.
Mulder finished with a string of pars, which is all he needed because Lowe double-bogeyed Nos. 14 and 17, both for the second straight day.
“I tried to stay patient,” Mulder said. “Derek and Mardy both played well on the front nine, especially D. Lowe. On the back nine I was able to get some separation.”
“It was a good front nine,” Lowe said. “We made the turn and we were both tied and then just couple of short-game blunders, one on 11 and then I think I 3-chipped on 14, and that was kind of the beginning of the end. Mark didn’t make any mistakes. He’s obviously a solid player, and knows how to play on Sunday. But all in all, I’ll take it. It’s obviously an experience that I’ll never forget.”
Lowe believes the experience could help him moving forward. He believes he is capable of winning here.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people here believe (they can win),” Lowe said. “I don’t think you’re going to show up here as a competitor and say I want a top 15. So yeah, I believe there’s probably 15, 20 guys that believe they have a chance to win.”
It was a frustrating finish for Fish, who was second for the second straight year.
“The whole week came down to really one club for me, and that was the putter,” he said. “At times it felt a little embarrassing the way I was putting, but I hit the ball okay. Getting a little tired of finishing second.”
Fish’s problems started on the par-5 3rd.
The left-handed swinging Fish was on the left fringe in two, approximately 20 feet from the hole. He hit the eagle putt poorly, and it took him three to get down around 15 feet, losing a potential three points.
“I played the first two holes well, “ Fish said. “I hit my best drive of the day on 3 and hit a great 3-iron kind of pin high. I just misjudged the greens all week like I did last year.
“I remember last year I had 11 3-putts. It’s really pretty much a constant thing right now. You are right, that No. 3 was really a tough pill to swallow. I couldn’t get out of the funk for a few holes.
That four-putt bothered Fish on the par-3 5th. He was about 15 feet way, and sailed the birdie putt 10 feet past the hole. He missed the comeback putt and settled for a bogey, losing another potential point.
Fish hit a nice approach on 7 and made the putt to get to 50 points. He finished the front side with two pars and a bogey.
He did manage a birdie on No. 7, and then went par and bogey to finish the front nine.
Fish never got untracked enough to put any pressure on Mulder, but he was able to catch the faltering Lowe.