Nothing odd about Rhoden’s fifth title
As it became more and more evident that Rick Rhoden was totally in command, even the wind laid down and let him play through.
After strong winds slammed the 76-player field during the first two rounds of play on Friday and Saturday, Rhoden took advantage of relatively calm conditions on Sunday to pull away from the field and claim a nine-stroke victory in the $500,000 American Century Golf Championship at Edgewood Tahoe.
It was the fifth victory in the 10-year event for Rhoden, the former major league pitcher who only seriously began playing golf after his retirement in 1990. He finished 54 holes at 4-under 112 – the only player under par – to earn the $100,000 winner’s check.
“I got hot early and then I was able to relax,” said Rhoden, who has won the tournament every odd year – ’91, ’93, ’95, ’97 and ’99. “Every day I seemed to play better, thank goodness. I knew I had to do something special to win. And winning every other year is all right with me.”
The 46-year-old Rhoden has won more money than any other Tahoe participant, collecting $513,636. His total this year was the largest winning margin in tournament history.
“(The rest of us) simply didn’t take care of business when the wind was blowing, and it came back to haunt us,” said New Orleans Saints quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, who finished tied for second with Dan Quinn at 5-over 221. “Rhoden is tough; he makes us all play better. We know that he’ll beat us if we don’t put out our best game.”
Rhoden admitted that he had played conservatively during the first two rounds because of the conditions (winds reached 51 mph on Saturday).
“I just tried to stay on the fairway and not shoot myself out of it,” he said. “Then on Sunday, I just got into this groove. I was able to create a little space, and things started clicking.”
Rhoden entered the final round with a one-stroke lead over retired hockey player Pierre Larouche, but quickly pounced on his playing partner with birdies on the first, third, fourth and fifth holes. By the fifth hole he was 3-under, five strokes ahead of Larouche, six strokes ahead of Tolliver and seven strokes ahead of Quinn.
And it could have been worse for the competition. Rhoden ended up two-putting for par on the sixth hole, but narrowly missed a birdie when his approach shot landed inches from the cup and kicked away.
“(Rhoden) just never makes mistakes; he’s a great player,” said former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, who was second after Friday’s first round but faded to 10th at 12-over 228. “This just goes to show you how good Rick is. Going 4-under given these conditions is unbelievable.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie shot a 73 on Sunday to finish fifth at 8-over 224. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Mark Rypien was sixth at 9-over 225. On Sunday, Rypien was sporting a “Tigger” shirt – a tribute to his late son, Andrew, who was fond of the Winnie the Pooh character.
“My strategy was to get something going early and hope that Rick blows up,” said Tolliver, who won the Tahoe event in 1996. “I’ve been in this tournament for 10 years, and I’ve only been playing golf for 12 years. Most of us are still learning.”
Said Quinn: “I envisioned getting into the thick of things with birdies on the first couple of holes, but it soon became evident that I was in a battle for second place.”
That second place was worth $40,000 to both Quinn and Toliver, while Larouche collected $19,856 for fourth.
“It’s not the money I’m interested in, although I’m not going to turn it down,” Tolliver said. “At this point we’re all looking at that title.”
Rhoden said that once you win a tournament, you gain momentum and are a lot more likely to win another.
“Success breeds success,” he said. “It’s like in baseball. You get on a roll sometimes, and your confidence just soars. It was like that for me today. Some days are just good days.”
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