SAN DIEGO — Scott Stallings was in the 18th fairway at Torrey Pines, 222 yards from the front of the green, needing a birdie to give himself a shot at outright victory Sunday in the Farmers Insurance Open. That’s when his caddie told him, “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Above all, he had experience.
One year and one week ago, Stallings was in a similar situation at the Humana Challenge. He hit a 6-iron from 220 yards, forgetting to account for a hanging lie until the ball sailed left and bounded into the water, the final mistake on a day he blew a five-shot lead.
He didn’t make the same mistake twice.
Stallings hammered a 4-iron that narrowly cleared the water and set up two putts from 40 feet for a birdie. It gave him a 4-under 68 and a one-shot lead that turned into a victory when no one could catch him.
“I don’t think one would happen without the other,” Stallings said. “I actually thought about 18 at Humana the whole time on 18 today. Not that I was like, ‘Oh, don’t hit it in the water.’ But it was, ‘Just make sure you pay attention to everything that’s going on.’”
His final birdie capped off a wild day at Torrey Pines, one that didn’t include Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson for the first time in two decades. Nine players had a share of the lead at one point. Eight players still had a reasonable chance in the final hour.
Stallings emerged the winner with one big shot, and now he’s headed back to the Masters.
K.J. Choi had the best score of the week on the South Course with a 66 and was among five players who tied for second. The pins were set up in favorable positions for birdies, making the course play the easiest it had all week.
But that didn’t make it easy — not for Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth, Pat Perez and so many others who squandered a good chance to win.
Woodland appeared to have the best chance to catch Stallings. He was one shot behind — with plenty of length to reach the 18th in two — until he chose fairway metal off the tee on No. 17 and hooked it into the canyon. He felt he had to make his 45-foot par putt to have any chance, and three-putted for double bogey. Woodland, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, missed an easy birdie attempt on the 18th and closed with a 74.
“This will be hard to swallow,” Woodland said. “I felt like I kind of gave one away today.”
Marc Leishman of Australia had the last chance to force a playoff, but his drive on the 18th went well right and bounced off the cart path and a fan. He had no chance to even consider going for the green in two. His wedge for an eagle stopped a few feet to the side of the hole, and a tap-in birdie gave him a 71.
Stallings finished at 9-under 279.
Jason Day (68) and Graham DeLaet of Canada (68) each made birdie on the last hole to tie for second. So did Perez, the San Diego native who grew up at Torrey Pines and whose father is the longtime starter on the first tee at the Farmers Insurance Open. Perez missed a 10-foot birdie chance on the 17th. He closed with a 70.
“It’s great and bad,” Perez said about his runner-up finish. “This is the one I want to win more than anything in the world, and I came up short. … I thought today would have been my day. I would like to be in that position again.”
Spieth didn’t make a birdie over the last 15 holes, and he fell back with back-to-back birdies late in the round. The 20-year-old Texan made a meaningless bogey on the last hole that only cost him a spot in the top 10. By then, his day was over. He closed with a 75.
“I just lost control of the golf ball,” Spieth said.
He also revealed that he tweaked his ankle Friday and felt it kept him from getting into the right position on his back swing.
Stallings, who started the final round three shots behind, won for the third time in his career. Two of those were tournaments that Woods played, yet Woods wasn’t around on Sunday either time. He missed the cut in the Greenbrier Classic and did not make the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines.
Stallings made six birdies over his last 11 holes, along with a pair of bogeys. Most remarkable is that he managed to hit only four fairways in the final round. But one that he did was important — the 537-yard closing hole, giving him a chance to get home in two for a birdie at worst.
He never considered laying up and trying to make birdie with a wedge in his hand.
“You don’t get very many opportunities to win golf tournaments on this tour,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily understand the situation I was in as far as the score, but I did know I had an opportunity. … I was playing to win.”
Charley Hoffman, another San Diego native, made a hole-in-one on the third hole and closed with a 67 to tie for seventh, along with Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and Will MacKenzie, who each had a 70.