Six and a half hours in, Harris English was tired. His hamstrings hurt. His back was sore. After 80 holes in 26.7 degree heat, he was struggling to focus. Darkness was becoming a factor. He lost count of how many holes he had played.
“It’s hard to stay mentally into it,” English said on Monday after winning an eight-hole playoff – tied for the second-longest sudden death in PGA Tour history – to beat Kramer Hickok and win the Travelers Championship.
“Hats off to him for a good fight,” said English, who shot a 5-under 65 to finish at 13 under and then rattled off seven pars in the playoff before holing a 16-foot birdie putt for the win. “We were both joking that somebody’s got to make a birdie sometime. I had that putt a few times, and I finally read it right.”
Both players birdied the final hole in regulation to force the playoff, which is second only to the 11-hole sudden death in the 1949 Motor City Open, when Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff were declared co-winners by mutual agreement due to darkness. Four other events have reached an eighth sudden death hole.
The eight-hole playoff was a record for the tournament, which went seven holes in 1961 (Ted Kroll) and again in ’62 (Bob Goalby), when it was known as the Insurance City Open.
It was the second win this year and the fourth career victory for English, who finished third at the US Open last week – and fourth in the pandemic-delayed U.S. Open in September. He won US$1,368,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points, moving into second in the standings.
English sank a 28-footer on the 72nd hole to emerge from a three-way tie and finish at 13 under. Then he headed to the range to stay warm in case Hickock, who was minus-12 with two holes to play, could catch him.
The 29-year-old Texan, who had never won on the PGA Tour, couldn’t convert a 39-foot birdie putt on the 17th, but he knocked in a nine-footer for birdie on No. 18 to match English.
They played 18 again – twice – and parred it again – twice. On to No. 17, then 18, then 17, then 18, then 18 again: All pars. Hickok lipped out on two long birdie putts that would have won it; on the sixth playoff hole, English missed a seven-foot birdie putt to win.
The crowd at the 18th green chanted “Kramer!” and did the wave while it waited for the golfers to head back and forth to the tee. On the final trip down the 438-yard par 4 – their seventh of the day and 10th of the weekend – Hickok put his second shot 28 feet from the pin and two-putted.
English landed his approach 16 feet away and made birdie.
“I don’t know how many it went,” English said afterward. “That was incredible. What an experience, and the fans were awesome. They’re always great here in Hartford, and glad we got to give them a little show at the end.”
Hickok has never won on the PGA Tour. The second-place finish was his best ever, topping a tie for eighth in the 2018 Bermuda Championship that was his only other time in the top 10.
“I learned that I belong,” said Hickok, who was joined after the round by his wife and his puppy, Elvis. “It was a huge learning experience for me.”
Four players were tied at 12 under after Bubba Watson bogeyed the 14th. But the three-time Travelers winner played the last five holes at six over to drop out of the chase.
“I’m glad that I was there, had the opportunity,” Watson said. “You know, I would love to do it again next week, throw up on myself again. It would it be great. I want to the opportunity and the chance to win.”
Watson’s collapse left Hickok – his 54-hole co-leader – on top at 12 under with English and Marc Leishman, who had finished his round with a 64 two hours earlier.
English finished the fourth round birdie-bogey-birdie, skipping after the ball and pumping his fist after the final hole of regulation. Hickok’s celebration was even more emphatic.
But there was still a playoff to come.
“I never thought I’d be playing 27 holes today,” Hickok said. “I was just trying to put as much pressure on him as possible. He was trying to do the same. I put him in uncomfortable spots, he put me in some too, and he came out on top today, and that’s a true champion.”
Leishman won the tournament in 2012, shooting a 62 on Monday to come from six strokes behind and earn his first career victory on the tour. This year, he shot 64 in the final round and was the leader in the clubhouse for several hours at 12 under but settled for third.
With plenty of low scores Monday and all of the leaders still on the course, he sensed it wasn’t enough.
“Nice to make a run and be around the lead,” said Leishman, who did head out to the range to warm up before English took his place. “Not holding my breath, but I won’t be going anywhere.”
Abraham Ancer (65) was fourth at minus-11. Kevin Kisner had his second 63 of the tournament – along with a 70 and a 74 – to tie for fifth at 10 under with Brooks Koepka (65) and three others.
A top-five finish would have moved Dustin Johnson back to the No. 1 spot in the world. But the defending champion shot 71 on Monday to tied for 25th at 6 under.