Rutledge overcomes nine shot deficit to win NZPGA

BY Bruce Young | Tour | 2006 NZ PGA Championship | Wrap | 26 Feb 2006
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The term ’journeyman’ is often used to describe a player where there is perhaps little else to describe the relative merits or otherwise of such a player. Typically it is used for a player who has been everywhere and has not really reached the top level on any one tour. It is like suggesting that someone is a jack of all trades but a master of none. For that reason it can often be considered a patronising and at times a derogatory word.

There is, though, no better word to describe veteran Canadian Jim Rutledge. Throughout his career he has played events on the Canadian, Asian, European, Japan, Nationwide and PGA Tours with the occasional good finish but few victories. His last win was in India in 1995 but today in Christchurch, New Zealand, the 46-year-old went a long way to changing the perception of the golfer that is Jim Rutledge.

His victory in the ING New Zealand PGA Championship was not won by struggling to the line and holding off a chasing pack. Rather, he won by overpowering a high quality field of both experienced and emerging players with a final round of 64 to come from nine shots behind overnight leader, Jarrod Lyle, to win by one over both Lyle and Brett Rumford.

Lyle started the final day well with an early birdie to move three ahead. Lyle had led this event twelve months ago after thirty six holes before fading over the weekend. This week however with a further twelve months of tournament experience behind him he turned a share of the 36 hole lead into a two shot lead starting the final day.

After his promising start today Lyle would drop four shots in the next four holes before he holed a ten footer at the 6th hole to get things moving back in the right direction. Over the next few holes the tournament developed into a battle between Lyle and Rumford. Rumford took the lead briefly when Lyle double bogeyed the 5th. When Rumford holed a long birdie putt at the 9th they both turned at 8 under for the tournament.

They remained that way through ten holes with Rumford missing a very good chance there to move ahead, but when Rumford hit a wild tee shot at the par three 11th, he took bogey and Lyle was in front on his own again.

At that point Rutledge, who had teed off some ninety minutes earlier than the final group, had raced through the first ten holes in five under and was still at that score for the day and six under for the tournament when he reached the par four 17th. Rutledge hit a great drive there and from 101 metres he holed his approach with a sand iron to jump to eight under and join Lyle, and Queenslander Scott Gardiner also on the move after a run of four consecutive birdies from the 12th.

Despite the fact that there were still birdie opportunities out there for those in the final few groups, there was the distinct possibility that if Rutledge could find a way to birdie the last he could post a score that might prove difficult to catch in the heat of the battle. For the likes of Lyle and Gardiner for a victory here would mean so much and that would offer even more pressure.

Rumford does have full status on the European Tour but a win was important to him also in a career that has seen him win only twice as a professional. Rutledge no doubt knew as he stood over his second to the last that he would likely need one more to be in a playoff. His approach came to rest alongside the green but only 20 feet from the hole and when he found a way to hole that he had moved to nine under and had the lead.

Behind, Lyle pulled his tee shot at the 13th under the lone tree guarding the left side of the fairway but had a full swing. He found a way to get his approach to the back flag within 12 feet and when that went in he was back in a share of the lead with Rutledge who by now was sitting in the commentary box no doubt savouring what was a rare moment.

Gardiner missed a couple of great chances to move even closer to the lead and when he bogeyed the 18th his chance was gone. Wade Ormsby, who is slowly but surely developing into a fine player, made a move earlier to get to seven under when he birdied the 9th but could not get the extra birdie or two he needed over the back nine to challenge those ahead of him. He finished alone in fourth.

Rumford moved to eight under and within one of both Rutledge and Lyle when he hit a great pitch to the par five 14th and he was very much a consideration. Lyle and Rumford both had reasonable chances at the 15th but missed although they both made good par saving putts at the 16th. At the 17th they both made par although Rumford had a chance from makeable distance to join Lyle and Rutledge in the lead.

At the last and needing a par to force the playoff or a birdie to win, Lyle pulled his tee shot left and found the hazard. Now he needed something special but from a grassy lie he missed the green right with his third after the penalty. His pitch from just off the green had a chance but the bogey he had taken had cost him a playoff opportunity.

Only Rumford was left to affect the winning result and after a great second from the left hand rough his putt for birdie from 15 feet shaved the hole and he was forced to settle for second with Lyle.

Jim Rutledge therefore was the winner and there could be no argument as to the manner in which he achieved his first win in so long. His victory has provided the distinct chance for him to join the PGA Tour for the first time in his career, should he go on with this form for the remainder of the year. He now has US$120,000 in earnings for season 2006 and requires perhaps another US$95,000 in the remaining twenty eight events to be joining the PGA Tour for the first time.

Like Allen Doyle did several years ago when he became a rookie on the PGA Tour at age 46 ,this win opens up a great opportunity for Rutledge to not only move to another level in his golfing life but to sharpen his game for a perhaps a career in Seniors Golf in four years time.

Break through weeks in professional golf do not often come to those in their mid-40’s but for ’Journeyman Jim" the ING New Zealand PGA has provided just that.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

    Read all of Bruce's articles ยป

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