ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – A late win gives Heath Slocum an early start next year.
Slocum was among those at the McGladrey Classic who faces the least amount of pressure in the Fall Series. He already is exempt after winning The Barclays last year. He is well within the top 70 on the money list, meaning he gets into all the invitationals. He was playing Sea Island because his goal every year is to win a tournament.
It could not have worked out any better.
Slocum used a series of short birdie putts to built a three-shot lead on the front nine Sunday, then emerged from a suddenly crowded leaderboard with a 60-foot birdie putt from just off the back of the 16th green.
With his challengers fading, that last birdie gave Slocum enough of a cushion to take bogey on the 18th hole and still win. He closed with a 2-under 68 and finished one shot ahead of Bill Haas.
It was his first victory of the year, and sends him into 2011 feeling better about his game.
"Getting any win, it's wonderful," Slocum said. "There's just no other feeling like it."
He finished at 14-under 266 and earned $720,000, which moved Slocum to No. 29 on the money list and revived hopes of staying in the top 30 at the end of the year and qualifying for the Masters.
For now, the victory allows him to head to Maui right after the holidays and start his 2011 season with the rest of the PGA Tour winners at Kapalua for the SBS Championship.
That's where he started this season — with a late victory — only they were different in so many ways.
Slocum was lucky to even get into the FedEx Cup playoffs a year ago, the No. 124 seed out of 125 players. Then he won The Barclays with a birdie putt on the last hole to beat Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker. Just like that, a bad year turned into a great one.
He was far more consistent this year — still not as much as he would like — although he didn't have a victory.
"I felt very, very good about my season without a win going in," Slocum said. "I won very late last year, and I'll be honest, it was not a good year up to that point. And all of a sudden, you call it a great year and my best on tour. To have the kind of consistency I had this year ... I didn't contend as many times as I would like, but I contended today, and I won. I can mark it off from the goal I had, and I got myself into Maui next year."
Slocum was expecting a struggle, and he got just that.
After making four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, he had a three-shot lead. Then came bogeys on the 10th and 12th holes, and with a few players making a late run, the tournament was wide open over the final hour.
But not for long.
Bo Van Pelt was one shot behind when he hit into the water hazard to the right of the 18th fairway and made double bogey. Robert Allenby was tied for the lead when he, too, went right into the water and took double bogey. David Toms was tied for the lead and had a birdie putt from just inside 15 feet on the 16th hole when he three-putted for bogey.
Slocum picked up a birdie when he least expected it.
He was 60 feet away, just off the back of the green, when a putt he was trying to lag close banged off the pin and disappeared.
"That's the tournament winner," he said. "You could three-putt just as easily, for sure more times than you're going to make it. When that went in, that was huge. I was glad to see that go in."
Haas, who won last week at the Viking Classic for his second victory this year, all but locked up his return to Augusta National. He drilled an approach on the par-5 15th to 10 feet for eagle to give himself a shot at back-to-back wins. The runner-up finish was worth $432,000, which moved him to No. 18 on the money list.
Most of the players in the top 30 are not playing much this time of the year, and it's unlikely Haas will be knocked out of the top 30.
Matt Kuchar closed with a 68, which should be enough to wrap up the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average. He has just over $4.9 million to lead the money list. If that stands, it will be the lowest amount to win the PGA Tour money title since David Duval ($2.5 million) in 1998, the year before the tour's series of big TV contracts began.
Allenby (66), Toms (68) and Arjun Atwal (66) tied for third at 12-under 268.
Charles Howell III finished his tournament-best round of 62 as the leaders were just headed to the practice range to warm up. He wound up in a tie for sixth with Van Pelt, who shot 66 despite the double bogey on the 18th.
Joe Durant, who started one shot out of the lead, closed with an even 70 and tied for sixth. That still was enough to move the 46-year-old Durant from No. 131 to No. 115 on the money list with three tournaments left in the season.
PGA Tour rookie Troy Merritt was No. 123 on the list and played in the final group with Slocum. He was out of sorts from the start, however, shot 41 on the front nine and didn't make a birdie until the 14th hole. Merritt shot a 75 and dropped three spots on the money list.