Mark Mulder defends American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe
STATELINE — Mark Mulder had his fellow contenders right where he wanted them.
Mulder, who trailed by five points entering the final round last year en route to the American Century Championship, trailed by five points going into Sunday’s final round.
Mulder birdied four straight holes to finish the front nine at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and went on to a 29-point day point and his second ACC crown. Mulder finished with 74 points, becoming the first back-to-back winner since Rick Rhoden won in 2008 and 2009.
Second went to Mardy Fish with 69 points, followed by two-time champ Jack Wagner (67), Jeremy Roenick (66), Mike Modano (65), Eric Gagne (61) and Lucas Black (59). Brian Urlacher and Sterling Sharpe tied for eighth at 50, and Joe Pavelski finished 10th with 48.
Mulder finished with seven birdies, seven pars and four bogeys, including the 18th hole for the second year in a row.
“I knew going into today I needed to make a bunch of birdies, and I didn’t make many putts the last few days,” Mulder said. “Today is one of those days I knew I had to. Luckily they started rolling in, and you start getting that vibe out there. It’s kind of a feeling at times.
“Our group had it, and I had it. That’s all that really matters. Once they started rolling in, I started making a bunch. My caddie was giving me some good reads. I kind of kept my head down and tried to keep making birdies. I didn’t look at a scoreboard until the middle of the 18th fairway.”
Both Fish and Wagner, who led Mulder after 36 holes, took notice of Mulder’s barrage of birdies.
“Mardy and I were pretty close the whole front nine never got a hot streak going,” Wagner said. “We were kind of staying in it, hoping something would happen. I think it was No. 8 when Mardy and I finally noticed Mark was in the 60s and we were making some pars.”
Mulder, who started the day with 45, parred the first two holes to get to 47, and then birdied No. 3 to get to 50. Consecutive pars on the par-5s got him to 52 before his four straight birdies put him at 64 at the turn.
“I’ve always struggled on those holes,” Mulder said. “Last year I birdied those holes on day two of the tournament, I believe. So just like anything else, you get on a little bit of a roll; all of a sudden I started feeling comfortable.
“I hit the ball nice and close. I had anywhere from 40 to 80 yards into those greens. A lot of us can hit the ball really good. It becomes a putting contest at some point, and today I made a bunch. I had it the ball really well on Friday and Saturday and didn’t make anything that I looked at, so today was nice to finally see some putts go in and make some confident strokes and hear the bottom of the cup.”
Mulder made it exciting, though. He hit his tee shot into the trees, punched out and then hit his third shot onto the green, and like last year, he bogeyed the whole.
That left the door open for Fish, who needed an eagle to tie. He reached the green in two and had a very makeable 12-foot putt for the tie. He rammed it well past the hole and ended up parring the hole.
“When we got up there, I thought Mark most likely parred 18, so I thought I had to hit in on the second shot on 18,” Fish said. “Then I didn’t think we had a chance; thought maybe the scoreboard was wrong. And then I thought I had that putt to tie.
“It wasn’t a very tough putt. In the context of the rest of the putts, throughout the week, weekend, that was a relatively easy one. I didn’t make many, so…”
Fish had just two birdies on the day. He had several good looks, but his stroke looked tentative.
Neither Fish, Wagner or Modano ever really got untracked, and putting was mostly to blame. Each player recorded just one birdie on the front nine; all three seemed tentative on the greens.
Modano started with a birdie on No. 1 to get to 48, but be bogeyed the next two holes thanks to three-putt efforts. He made five bogeys on the front. He bounced back with three birdies on the back nine to finish with 20 points on the day.
Fish, who had 19 points on the day, started his round with six straight pars before bogeying the par-4 7th to stay at 56. He made the turn at 57 points after two-putting from 15 feet on No. 9. He had consecutive bogeys at 11 and 12 before reeling off four straight pars. He birdied the par-3 17th and three-putted the 18th for bogey.
Wagner parred the first three holes before knocking in a 15-footer for birdie on the par-5 4th hole to get to 54 points. He two-putted for par on the next five holes to get to 59 at the turn. His only birdie on the back nine came on the par-5 16th.
It was Wagner’s 21st top-10 finish in the 27-year history of the event. Wagner is one of three players to play every year.
“I just think that the odds-makers, if you look at who they made the two favorites, it was Mark and Mardy,” Wagner said. “They probably would say their putting is sometimes their weakest spot. I don’t hit the ball nearly as far as them, but I think my putting and chipping is my strong point.
“So I felt I had to putt great this week to compete with these guys. Mark putted great today, and that’s what happens. It (putting) will definitely separate the better players when the greens are good.”
Roenick, after consecutive 20-point days put up a final-day 26 for 66 points. He had five birdies, including 17 and 18. He had just two bogeys on the day.
Gagne also had a final-day 26, and Black had 25, which tied his first-round total back in 2013 when he tied for eighth.