Robert Streb hasn't seen many early indications of a happy ending throughout his career.
That included his first PGA Tour victory.
He started the McGladrey Classic with a tee shot he hooked into a bush, leading to a double bogey, and spent the next two days worried only about making the cut. Five shots behind going into the final round Sunday, he drove into a bunker on the opening hole and made bogey. Even after he made five birdies to get back in the mix, he three-putted the 13th for bogey to fall four shots behind with five holes to play.
"And at that point I was like, 'Well, I'll just see how many birdies I can try to make on the way in,'" Streb said. "And I got on a pretty nice little run."
Streb ran off four straight birdies, closed with a 7-under 63, and then waited 90 minutes to see if it would hold up. He got into a three-way playoff at Sea Island with Brendon de Jonge and Will MacKenzie, and won on the second extra hole with the most significant shot of his young career.
He hit 8-iron at the par-3 17th that covered the flag and settled 4 feet behind the hole for his 10th birdie of the day.
"Very thrilled," Streb said, mainly because winning had not sunk in.
The 27-year-old from Oklahoma has never played in a major. Now he's going to the Masters in April, the PGA Championship next August, and the option to play events for only the top tier players, from Kapalua to Bay Hill to Memorial to Colonial.
"It's pretty exciting," Streb said. "I don't have any emotions yet, but very thrilled."
De Jonge had his best chance yet to win for the first time, and the only consolation was not having to look back at anything he did wrong. His lone regret was a pedestrian bunker shot on the par-5 15th and failing to make an 8-foot birdie putt. He closed with a 65. De Jonge hit his tee shot on the 17th in the playoff to about 30 feet left of the pin, though that became an even longer putt when Streb stuffed his 8-iron.
"What can you do? He hit a great shot," de Jonge said. "And as I said, it's nice for him to have a birdie. It's a good way to win the tournament."
MacKenzie, who started the final round tied for the lead, closed with a 68. He also failed to birdie the 15th that would have given him the outright lead, and then he was happy to just get into the playoff. He three-putted from 80 feet for bogey on the 16th to fall out of the lead. He answered with a 5-foot birdie on the 17th, and then he had to lag a putt from 80 just short of the 18th green to get into the playoff.
But it didn't last long. MacKenzie found a bunker right of the 18th green on the first extra hole, blasted out to 30 feet and made bogey.
Streb had to made about a 4-footer for par in the playoff just to keep going. He was nervous over that putt, and the putt for the win. But he came through with a win that not even he would imagined when he walked off the 13th hole with a bogey.
It's been like that his whole career.
Streb grew up at Oak Tree, though he had to leave home for college. Oklahoma didn't have a scholarship to offer — Streb always wanted to be a Sooner. And he didn't think he was good enough for Oklahoma State except to try to walk on.
Instead, he went to Kansas State. He met his wife, Maggie, who is expecting their first child (a girl) in February. He got his degree in marketing in case golf didn't work out. And then he hit the minor leagues with great resolve.
Streb got to the PGA Tour after three years, and then narrowly lost his card. He failed to get it back for last season, though he took advantage of his limited starts by finishing second in New Orleans. Later in the season, he figured he was headed to the third round of the FedEx Cup playoffs until Jason Day made a birdie on the last hole at the TPC Boston that bumped Streb out of the top 70.
He has been motivated to get better every step of the way.
"I guess it kind of keeps you hungry," he said. "You're obviously not going to achieve all your goals right from the get go. Well, at least I didn't."