April 21, 2013

With one wind-blown shot, Hoffman's chance at RBC Heritage disappears

Charley Hoffman has played in these types of conditions before.

Charley Hoffman has played in these types of conditions before.

Heck, one of his two career wins on the PGA Tour came on a day like Sunday on Hilton Head Island, when he emerged victorious in a playoff over John Rollins in the 2007 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Winds were gusting upward of 30 to 40 mph that day, and yet Hoffman remained unfazed en route to his first win on tour.

"I like the wind," Hoffman reiterated Saturday, shortly after his 5-under-par 66 left him two shots clear of Webb Simpson entering the final round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. "I'd rather have the wind blow than not blow. I'm usually a good ball-striker, I usually hit the ball solid and control it better in the wind.

"I say bring on the wind."

He got his wish. The wind came, and before leaving, it took Hoffman's ball with it.

A double bogey at Harbour Town Golf Links' par-3 14th hole proved to be his undoing. While Simpson remained patient -- repeatedly backing off as the wind continued to whip -- Hoffman took a different route, connecting on one of the first shots available to him.

Simpson's tee shot at 14 came while the wind was as calm as it had been all day. He hit the best ball he could to win, pulling it to the left but managing to stay dry and leave himself a chance to save par in the process. Hoffman, meanwhile, hung out to the right, splashed in the water, took a drop and couldn't connect on an up-and-down for bogey.

And so went the the 36-year-old Hoffman's chance at the tartan jacket. A hole that started with a three-way tie atop the leaderboard ended with the former UNLV star two shots back, his Sunday round officially blown away.

"The wind (was) gusting and sometimes it doesn't work out, and it didn't work out today, unfortunately," he said off the 18th green, as Simpson prepared for his ensuing playoff with eventual winner Graeme McDowell. "Obviously, I would like the good ones to turn out a little better and make the par putts. It just didn't happen."

Hoffman knew the 14th hole could spell trouble for him days ago, when he first came across the par-3 during his practice round on Tuesday. His comments on the difficult hole Saturday were merely a foreshadowing to the problems he would encounter there a day later.

"Fourteen is one of the hardest par-3's you'll ever play," he said. "Pin up front and, if you're not striking it well, and if you hit it short, you're in the water."

He took a few practice shots there before the tournament began, hoping to avoid what would eventually bite him in the final round. It was a fate McDowell believed was destined for him, too, as he thought his shot fell in the drink two groups earlier. He wasn't happy with his shot, caddie Ken Comboy said, after he was trying to avoid going to the left.

"He was delighted to see it land," Comboy said.

McDowell ultimately walked away with the RBC Heritage title. Hoffman, though, finished tied for sixth after his 6-over-par 77 Sunday left him 5 under for the tournament. He three-putted on No. 17 to follow up the double on No. 14 before another strong gust left him short on the final hole.

Just one last blow from the unforgiving conditions.

"I actually hit the ball all right today, I just didn't make the putts like I needed to make yesterday," he said. "(I) really was in the tournament the whole time, and hit a bad shot on 14 and sort of went south of there."

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