American hero Joey Chestnut might have eaten 76 hot dogs in ten minutes at this year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, but he had nothing on Australia’s Cam Davis, who survived 77 holes of golf this week to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic on a fifth playoff hole against Troy Merritt.
Davis’ maiden Tour victory came just one week after a playoff at the Travelers Championship between Harris English and Kramer Hickok went eight holes, tied for the longest on Tour since 1949. They needed five to decide a champion this time; a playoff that started with three players.
Joaquin Niemann, a 22-year-old Chilean prodigy, also finished 72 holes at 18-under, but after playing each of those 72 holes without a bogey, an aggressive approach landed in unfavorable rough behind the green, leading to an inopportune first bogey, and playoff elimination.
Davis missed a putt that would have won the tournament on all five playoff holes. It was only when Merritt missed a short putt of his own on the fifth playoff hole that the 26-year-old Aussie finally clinched the victory.
As impressive as it was that Davis was able to push through a grueling five-hole playoff, how he got into the playoff in the first place was even more remarkable. Davis started the final round one stroke behind Merritt and Niemann’s 54-hole lead, but at even par through 11 holes, on a Sunday where the vast majority of the field at Detroit Golf Club was going low, he had seemingly played himself out of contention. That was when he birdied 12, 13, and 14 consecutively to get back into the picture.
Still, after a bogey on 16, he found himself two back of the lead with two to go. However, he needed just one hole to jump into a share of a crowded lead, as he holed from a greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 17.
Davis followed up that incredible eagle with a pristine approach to six feet on the par-4 18th. He made his birdie putt to shoot 5-under 67, reach 18-under for the week, and nab the solo clubhouse lead.
As he stayed warm on the range (not that he wasn’t already warm in the 90-degree Michigan weather), Niemann and Merritt both birdied 17 to make it a three-way tie atop. Both players had a legitimate birdie chance on 18, but settled for par. Five holes later, Davis was champ on the day Americans celebrate their independence.
Finishing one stroke out of the playoff was Hank Leboida, who also finished strong at last week’s Travelers Championship, and Sweden’s Alex Noren.
The Rocket Mortgage ended up being one of the most competitive events of the PGA Tour season, at least in regards to volume of players in contention. However, weekend ratings likely suffered as the event lost much of its star power before the week, with defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, the highest ranked player in the field, missing the cut, and reigning Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama being forced to withdraw before the second round after testing positive for COVID-19.
2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic
Top-10 Leaders: Round 4
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 4)
1. Cam Davis -18 (-5)
2. Troy Merritt -18 (-4)
2. Joaquin Niemann -18 (-4)
4. Hank Lebioda -17 (-4)
4. Alex Noren -17 (-8)
6. Bubba Watson -16 (-8)
6. Brandon Hagy -16 (-4)
8. Mark Anderson -15 (-6)
8. Seamus Power -15 (-5)
8. Sungjae Im -15 (-5)
8. Kevin Kisner -15 (-4)
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 4)
12. Jason Kokrak -14 (-3)
12. Chris Kirk -14 (-3)
14. Jason Day -13 (-6)
32. Patrick Reed -13 (-5)
32. Rickie Fowler -13 (-1)
41. Garrick Higgo -8 (-1)
58. Matthew Wolff -6 (E)
58. Kramer Hickok -6 (E)
71. Willie Mack III -4 (-1)
74. Phil Mickelson -3 (E)
77. Will Zalatoris E (+4)
How Cam Davis Won The Rocket Mortgage Classic
Davis could not have been much more consistent this week: he opened with a pair of 68s and then closed with a pair of 67s. He most definitely did not win with pars, as his seven bogeys ranked T83 in the field, but he had 23 birdies, which tied for second, plus that hole-out eagle on 17.
He was fourth in the field for the week in strokes gained: tee-to-green, but somehow, he was decently better in that statistic on the first two days when he shot slightly higher. He was fifth in strokes gained: around-the-green, a statistic where he ranks 191st for the season, ninth in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and surprisingly finished outside the top 50 in driving accuracy, and outside the top 40 in greens in regulation. Most Tour winners this year have finished highly in at least one of those two stats.
Given how little Davis has been in contention during his three-year full-time Tour career, it was impressive how he was able to put his foot on the peddle late, and even more impressive that he was able to grind it out through five extra holes. He missed a number of birdie putts in the playoff, but kept putting himself in good position, and let Merritt make the first big mistake.
His first time in serious contention came last October at the Sanderson Farms Championship, when he held the 54-hole co-lead with Sergio Garcia, but played himself out of the championship on the front nine and finished T6.
What Winning Means For Davis
That T6 at the Sanderson Farms Championship was in his second start of the season, and he later posted a solo-third at January’s The American Express, which was his seventh start of the season. That early-season surge more or less clinched his spot in this year’s FedExCup playoffs, but this win really made his season, and really put him on the map as a serious player.
Since a T14 at Pebble Beach in February, his results dropped off considerably, with a T25 being his best finish in his last 11 starts. He is now 34th in the FedExCup standings and is primed for a deep playoff run in August.
Starting the week 134th in the world rankings, this will bump Davis back into the top 100 for the second time in his career, and the first since he was at No. 100 in November of 2018. His career high was 97th, just a month prior.
In addition to the two-year exemption, Davis will finally find himself in more big-time events. He has made just two major starts in his career: a T39 at the 2018 Open Championship and a T59 two months ago at the PGA Championship.
Sunday’s Other Stars
Bubba Watson absolutely imploded down the stretch after snagging the Sunday lead at last week’s Travelers Championship, an event he had won three times. Fortunately for the two-time Masters Champ, he was able to quickly forget, shooting a co field-low 8-under 64 on Sunday to jump from T25 to T6, briefly taking the lead before running out of holes.
Watson was bogey-free 4-under on both nines, and his 24 birdies for the week led the field.
Also struggling on Sunday from out front at the Travelers was former world No. 1 Jason Day. Also similar to Watson, Day was much better in the final round this week, shooting a bogey-free 6-under 66 to move 21 spots up the leaderboard, from T35 to T14.
Playing four groups behind Bubba, was Sweden’s Alex Noren, who matched the 8-under 64. Noren jumped from T15 to T4 with his strong final, finishing just one stroke out of the playoff.
It was the sixth top-25 in less than three months for the world No. 97, who also improved his FedExCup standing from 98th to 78th.
There was one other 64 in the Sunday field: Auburn product Patton Kizzire, whose phenomenal round 4 raised him a field-high 45 spots from T70 to T25. It was a welcomed outing for Kizzire, who had missed his last three cuts after finishing T3 in back-to-back starts.
Rocket Mortgage Ambassador Rickie Fowler had been playing much better as of late, and with a weaker strength of field in Detroit this week, hopes were high that he could net one of the high finishes that have eluded him the past two years.
At 9-under through three rounds, Fowler had a Sunday prayer at five strokes back, but was thoroughly underwhelming on the final day, shooting a 1-under 71 that dropped him from T15 to T32. He played his front nine bogey-free, but stagnated on the back with bogeys on 11 and 16 before a late birdie on 17.
The golf world was emphatically introduced to Davis Thompson on Thursday, as an opening 9-under 63 gave him an early two-stroke lead.
Playing in just his third Tour event as a professional, the world No. 1150 was unable to keep the Thursday momentum going, shooting 73-72 before a 2-over 74 on Sunday to finish T58. Thompson had just five birdies over the final three rounds, after carding nine in his opening round.
Sunday’s biggest dropper was Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz, who plummeted 52 spots from T15 to T67 after a 4-over 76. Munoz bogeyed four holes in a row (11-14) on the back nine.
Probably still on a high from winning the PGA Championship two months ago, Phil Mickelson was much less electric on Sunday at Detroit Golf Club. The 51-year-old shot a third straight even-par 72, and finished T74 for the week, shooting better than only two players that made the cut.
Mickelson made news earlier in the week when an unfavorable story about him in the Detroit Free Press led to him stating that he probably would not play the event again. He later changed his mind, saying that he would come back in the future if a petition mandating each signee do a good deed reached 50,000 signatures.
“It has been pretty hectic since the 7th or 8th hole for me. I just tried to put it as much out of my mind as I could and just hit every shot for what it was worth.
“As simple as that is, it’s so hard to do when the pressure is on like that. I just kept putting good swings on it, I guess I didn’t make any putts, but I kept putting them in play, so it all worked out alright.”
– Cam Davis, Rocket Mortgage Classic Champion