Philadelphia, PA – Chez Reavie came out of nowhere to five 18th to seal the biggest win of his career.
One could see the nerves bubbling at the surface as Reavie waited not so patiently on the tee for a couple groups to finish their rounds. He grabbed the towel from his bag and dried his hands of the sweat, but no towel could wipe away the inexperience he faced.
After two shots, Reavie's ball rested on the fairway, only 115 yards away from victory. A decent approach onto the green and a two-putt ends this thing, he must have thought.
Well, as many inexperienced players before him have done, he sent his third shot well into the rough beyond the green, and his subsequent chip left him 11 feet, 2 inches away from a win.
"The wind was off the right, and I thought, if anything, a little hurting," he said of the third shot. "So I was just -- I took a 54-degree wedge and I was just going to hit it three quarter, and I did that and pulled it a little bit and then the wind switched from off the right and in to off the right and down and then I pulled it on top of it, which just made it go even further."
If he hadn't misplayed his third shot and had two putts from that distance, it's a mortal lock that Reavie wins the tournament. But given his below- average putting acumen, the pressure of a winning putt and the fact that an average putter makes about 33 percent of putts from that distance, it was rather predictable that a playoff with eventual champion Webb Simpson was in the cards.
"I hit a good putt, I just didn't play enough break, and it just broke and I missed it just low," Reavie said. "I still felt good about it."
Reavie may have felt good about it, but the numbers didn't. Regardless of the slope of the green or his concentration levels, all the numbers and intangible factors were working against him on this hole. He had made several birdie putts in the holes leading up to 18 that were out of character for a player of his talent level; the Gambler's Fallacy suggested that he would come back to earth, and he did.
While Gambler's Fallacy is just that -- a fallacy -- it would have been silly to expect Reavie to end the tournament in regulation. Here was Reavie, then ranked the 142nd player in the world in Strokes Gained - Putting, a player who is hurt by his putting more than he is helped.
But it took two players to force a playoff, not just Reavie's predictable miss. On the other end of the spectrum was Simpson, ranked 67th in this metric, who faced a must-make 26-foot, 7-inch birdie putt on the same hole to get within one shot and have a chance to extend the tournament.
As predictable as Reavie was, Simpson was even more unpredictable. An average putter makes less than 10 percent of putts from the distance Simpson faced, but somehow he managed to sink it and put the pressure on Reavie.
"I thought that putt might come up like an inch short, but it kept rolling out. When it went in, it was pretty exciting," Simpson recalled.
Simpson demonstrated his superior putting ability again in the playoffs, preventing Reavie from an easy tap-in winning birdie putt on a replay of the 18th.
After both players found the green on the first playoff hole, Reavie was the huge favorite to come away the winner, as he stood three feet away from the hole compared to Simpson's 15. Statistically, Reavie had a 95 percent chance of making his putt, while Simpson's chances dropped all the way to 22 percent.
Simpson, however, defied the odds again, making the 15-foot putt. Looking back at the two tries at 18 together, Simpson had about a two percent chance of making both putts. Sometimes, that two percent chance is all you need in sports and what makes it so incredible.
Reavie, meanwhile, had a 95 percent chance and converted -- again, a predictable result.
On the second playoff hole, Reavie's chances took a turn for the worse, pushing his approach on the par-four 17th to only 23 feet away, giving him an 11 percent chance at birdie. Simpson, who was eight feet away, would make his putt about half the time.
If momentum and confidence had anything to do with it, it seemed Simpson was destined to land on the right half of that 50 percent. Reavie, on the other hand, kept doing what the numbers dictated, and this was no different, as he missed his birdie chance right.
Simpson, whether predictable or not, sank his winning putt and ascended to the top of the playoff standings. It still was not the most disappointing finish for Reavie, who went from 87th in the standings and likely missing the last two playoff events to ninth and likely participating in both.