PGA TOUR, 23 June 2019: There is the natural reaction, as soon as the third-round scorecard is signed, to peek ahead to Sunday’s finale, to build up an enthusiasm for what is on the horizon.
Then there are those times like Saturday at TPC River Highlands, when players scratch their heads, stare quizzically, and search for answers to the question, “What the heck just happened?”
It wasn’t an easy one, especially for Zack Sucher. The journeyman who started the third round with a two-stroke lead in the Travelers Championship conceded he knew this much: “The front nine was a lot of fun.”
Indeed, it was – four birdies, out in 31, and leading by five.
But it’s the next stretch of holes in question. What happened there? Sucher offered that it was “rough,” Chez Reavie called it “stunning,” while Keegan Bradley said “it was surprising,” then added, “but it proves anything can happen out there.”
Oh, how Bradley was proven correct, because Reavie, who bogeyed the sixth hole to fall six behind Sucher, his playing competitor, caught fire, carding eight birdies over his final 11 holes – including a back-nine 28 to complete a round of 7-under 63 – to build a six-shot lead over Bradley (69) and Sucher (71). The bulk of that turnaround came on the first three holes of the outward nine, as Reavie went birdie-birdie-birdie to Sucher’s bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey.
An eight-shot swing that even had Reavie, who is at 16-under 194, lost to explain.
Where he wasn’t lost for words was when he was asked the last tournament in which he had such a large 54-hole lead. “Never,” said the 37-year-old veteran of 12 PGA TOUR seasons. “Junior golf, maybe.”
Truth is, Reavie is navigating new waters here. His only other 54-hole lead came in 2008 at the RBC Canadian Open, when he held on for what is his only PGA TOUR win in 277 starts. That was so long ago, Reavie’s competition is either off the TOUR (Anthony Kim) or has settled into PGA TOUR Champions competition (Billy Mayfair, Mark Calcavecchia, Scott McCarron).
Just don’t think the lack of victories translates into a pushover, because nothing is further from the truth.
“He’s a little bulldog. He’s an MMA fighter trapped in a golfer’s world,” said longtime caddie and loyal friend Justin York. “He hates to lose more than he likes to win.”
York concedes that the stunning turnaround will be remembered for the way in which Sucher started the back nine (he hit a tree on 10 and drove it just 154 yards; his tee ball on 11 landed up against the lip of a bunker; his third shot on 12 was flopped into a bunker), but what shouldn’t be overlooked is how Reavie remained stoic. The 5-foot-9-inch, 160-pound Corey Pavin-like competitor rolled in birdies from 24, 11 and 3 feet during that stretch, then kept the foot on the gas with birdies at 13, 15, 17 and 18.
“We just stuck to our game,” said York, who has been on Reavie’s bag for nearly six years. While Reavie could have gotten caught up in the struggles of Sucher, who went out in 31 and came home in 40, the fact that he did not is a tribute to him.
“It was like last week at the U.S. Open,” said York. “We played the fourth round with Brooks (Koepka) and Brooks birdied four of the first five, while we were 1 over. But Chez knows he isn’t Brooks, he can’t play Brooks Koepka’s game, so he just focused on playing his.”
Koepka did shoot 68 to finish second, but significantly, Reavie came home in 71 for a share of third, his best-ever finish in a U.S. Open.
So, it didn’t surprise York that Reavie remained settled and focused while all sorts of craziness was going on around him on that back nine. A plan was in place, and Reavie has one for Sunday’s bid at a second PGA TOUR win.
“If I go out and shoot 5- or 6-under, if someone catches me, they’re going to play a hell of a round. That’s my goal. Go shoot 5- or 6-under.”