Wagner wins: In high-drama finish, soap star becomes celebrity golf tournament’s first winning actor
STATELINE – As actor Jack Wagner waited out a delay on the 18th tee on Sunday, he didn’t use the extra time to reflect on any tournament memories forged out of 17 years of playing the punishing home hole.
In fact, only Bill Laimbeer, had a more painful public history on the scenic par-5, a risk-reward finishing hole that entices players to go for a green – protected on both sides by water – in two.
But history changed with one pressure-packed putt. Wagner coaxed in a slick 10-foot birdie putt on the closing hole to win his first American Century Championship title at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
“I’ve started to breathe again,” said Wagner, beginning a post-tournament press conference.
The star of “The Bold and the Beautiful” still won’t list No. 18 as one of his favorite holes. It’s a tough driving hole for him because he doesn’t hit a draw. Consequently, there have been too few birdies on No. 18, preventing him from winning more often.
Wagner finished runner-up to Rick Rhoden in 2003 and has placed third and fourth twice. In 2003, he entered the final round as a co-leader but could have had the outright lead if not for the unforgiving 18th.
Following Sunday’s 10-minute delay on the 18th tee that Wagner spent visiting with family members, the former “General Hospital” star blocked his tee shot into the right rough. Impeded from a clear shot to the green by a gaggle of ominous pine trees, Wagner elected to punch out and take his chances of making birdie with his wedge game.
“Hitting it right turned out to be an advantage because I really didn’t have to go for the green,” Wagner said. “I sort of took the water out of play, and I had to make birdie because I knew these guys were going to make birdie.”
That patience paid off as Wager choked up on a sand wedge and calmly settled his third shot 10 feet right of the pin.
Meanwhile, Billy Joe Tolliver, who began the hole one point behind, left his second shot short of the green, while four-time champion Dan Quinn got back into position for an unlikely win with a fantastic long iron to 15 feet below the hole.
“I didn’t see (Dan’s second shot), I was over talking to people about me,” Wagner joked. “I figured he could make that, because he was due. He didn’t make anything all day.”
After Tolliver stuck his chip shot within a couple feet for a certain birdie and Quinn’s eagle attempt didn’t find the line to the cup, Wagner correctly read his right-edge putt and deftly delivered the right speed for a clinching birdie and $100,000 first prize.
“I’m glad the last putt was downhill, because I was pretty nervous over that. It had enough speed and it went dark,” Wagner said.
Wagner became the first entertainer to win the title. In the previous 16 championships, a sports personality had always captured celebrity golf’s biggest title.
“I’m so happy about that,” Wagner said. “I’m glad I could represent, not only Hollywood, but the entertainment world in terms of golf.”
Tolliver, the first- and second-round leader, finished runner-up, a point behind Wagner. Tolliver, who would have won if Wagner had missed the tricky birdie putt from the edge of the green, interrupted Wagner’s press conference to tell the champion that he had ruined his home life.
“I just got off the phone with my wife and her saying, ‘You suck. Quit the game,'” Tolliver said. “I need a little love at home.”
What Tolliver would have given for a few more pars on Sunday. Through six holes, he didn’t complete a hole in regulation, starting with three bogeys and three birdies. He finished his final round with five pars, eight bogeys and five birdies.
“There were a lot of chances to make some putts, and (Jack) was the one who made the putts for par that we didn’t make,” Tolliver said.
Wagner fell as many as nine points behind Tolliver on No. 4 and still trailed by eight after six holes. Three three-putts contributed to Wagner’s slow start, but he drained a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 and a fast 18-foot downhill birdie on No. 12 to get back into contention.
“He went through his emotions early,” Quinn said. “He got relaxed when he made his bogeys at the beginning.”
Wagner finally caught Tolliver on the par-4 14th, capitalizing on a precise approach shot and sinking a 12-foot birdie attempt.
“I really focused on my putts and made sure I gave myself enough time,” Wagner said.
The shot, however, saving Wagner’s momentum followed a pulled tee shot into the left rough on No. 15. Blocked from going at the pin by some overhanging branches, Wagner relaxed by reverting to the entertainer in him.
Looking at his caddie-son Peter, Wagner said, “Can you grab my cellphone and call Tiger Woods?”
Wagner didn’t need Woods. He executed a cut shot from 180 yards with an 8-iron and found a small target just off the front of the green. After a delicate chip up the slope and then down the hill left him 10 feet for par, Wagner canned the uphill putt. That gave him a one-point lead that he never relinquished.
“The best man won,” said Tolliver, who collected a $50,000 consolation prize.
Quinn was third with 67 points and earned $30,000.
Mario Lemieux, the 1998 champ, tied with Grant Fuhr for fourth place and was pleased to see Wagner receive his due.
“He’s always enjoyed this tournament, so it’s nice to see him come through,” Lemieux said. “I’m a little bit (surprised) he hasn’t won this before. But it’s always a tough tournament down the stretch and there are so many good players.”
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