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February 01, 2010

Daily Flogging: Ben Crane survives at Torrey; Phil Mickelson and others falter

With the likes of Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and Robert Allenby in the chase, you weren't the only one who was surprised by Ben Crane's victory in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. So, too, was Crane, who up until now has been best known for being golf's poster boy for slow play.

Seriously, Crane two-putted the final green, holing a three-footer, and still didn't know he'd won. Take it from Mick Elliott of AOL Fanhouse:

That's when Crane turned quizzically to caddie Joel Stock, looking very much like a man suddenly realizing his pants were on fire.

"You know, I did not know that I had won when it was over," Crane said. "I didn't know who was playing well. I didn't know what was really going on in front of me. I had no idea what was going on. I'm thankful I didn't. Someone said, 'one-shot lead' when we were going to the last hole, so I thought he might be right."

Still, Crane insisted victory did not register until final-group playing partner Ryuji Imada made it official. "He goes, 'Congratulations,' and I go, 'Did I win?' " Crane said. "He kind of looks at me. I said, 'Did I win the tournament?' He's like, 'Yeah.' "

The funny thing was, the guys who didn't win got almost as much attention as Crane. The most noteworthy story belonged to Aussie Allenby, whose chances of winning vanished when his 7-iron approach shot air-mailed the green at the 14th hole. It was the dreaded flyer shot that everyone has been talking about -- a ball jumping farther than normal off the face of the club from the rough due to the new grooves.

On ESPN.com, Bob Harig focused on Allenby's wayward shot:

"I think it's still going," the Aussie said disgustedly afterward. "It's going for a surf."

Allenby was kicking himself for blowing his second chance at victory in two tournaments -- in both, a "flyer" cost him. He was very much in favor of the new rule in place this year that limits the space in grooves -- the intended consequences now biting Allenby twice.

"I think, if you really look at it, it's cost me two tournaments, definitely," Allenby said. "I was in the groove. And feeling ready to do it today. It was such a shame that it happened... You know what, I don't have a problem with it (the rule). Obviously, two shots have cost me two tournaments. But at least they're costing me tournaments."

Meanwhile, fellow Aussie Michael Sim (perhaps the leader of the up-and-coming-young-stars group) astonished the CBS telecast crew by not going for the par-5 18th green in two when he trailed leader Ben Crane by one shot. Instead, Sim played it safe, laid up and made a par, allowing Crane to win with a routine par.

No writers took Sim to task, but Brent Read let Sim explain himself in The Australian

"I think I could have got there, but I had to hit it flush, and I wasn't swinging that well and just decided to lay up to a comfortable number. I felt like I hit a great shot, landed in a perfect spot. I just had too much spin on it. I'm sure a lot of guys probably did the same on that last hole today... I won three tournaments last year on the Nationwide Tour, and it was just different out there today. You know, you're out there to try and win your first PGA Tour event, and I felt like I handled myself pretty good after getting off to such a rough start. I felt like I struggled with my swing, especially today and yesterday. It was a mentally tough week. So to finish in second place, (I'm) extremely happy."

Hometown hero Mickelson didn't get the job done in the final round, either. He shot 73 and dropped from fifth to 19th. His final-round charge never materialized after he opened with three straight bogeys. As the San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out, it was the ninth straight year he failed to win his hometown event and, coincidentally, it's been nine years since the South Course was remodeled by Rees Jones. The Union-Trib's Phil wrapup:

“Yeah, I would like to play better out here,” Mickelson said when asked if he’s frustrated by the victory drought here. “I’ve struggled on the course since it’s been redesigned, but everybody’s got to play it. I just haven’t played it as well as others. I still look at this tournament with a great fondness... I know where I want to go with my game. It didn’t feel as bad as the score reflected. I’m looking forward to L.A. I’ve had some good results there in the past."

Adding to yesterday’s frustration was that Mickelson’s coach, Butch Harmon, came to Torrey Pines for some pre-round work and Mickelson said he had a “good warm-up session.”

“He was so amped up and excited to play he almost was like a racehorse in the gate, biting at the bit to get out,” Harmon said. “To me he was so ready to play that he almost put too much pressure on himself. He was so anxious, more than anything. But he’s fine.”

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