CVS Caremark CEO/President Larry Merlo (left) presents the championship trophy to this yearâ€™s winners, Bo Van Pelt (center) and Steve Stricker (right), on the 18th hole following Tuesdayâ€™s finals at the Rhode Island Country Club. Van Pelt and Stricker defended their title by teaming up to shoot a 20-under-122 that was one stroke better than the tandem of Peter Jacobsen and Jimmy Walker. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
BARRINGTON â€” If PGA stalwarts Steve Stricker and Bo Van Pelt had their way, they'd return to the CVS Caremark Charity Classic every summer.
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The only problem? Given the duo's remarkable success at Rhode Island Country Club over the past two years, tournament co-hosts and local favorites Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade joked about their possible return after a wildly-entertaining finish early Tuesday afternoon.
When asked if there was anything he would change about the event, Faxon grinned, â€śI wouldn't invite Stricker back. He's too good.â€ť
Andrade immediately quipped, â€śI wouldn't bring Bo back, either.â€ť
All teasing aside, here's why: The tandem connected for a best-ball, 11-under 60 on the par-71 links, and â€“ with an opening-round 62 â€“ defended its title with a 20-under 122, just a stroke in front of PGA Tour legend Peter Jacobsen and FedEx Cup points leader Jimmy Walker.
That pairing finished at 123 following a final-round 61.
It was a far cry from the tourney record minus-25 registered a year ago, yet they were still good enough to reign.
â€śYou know, Bo and I were talking about it (Monday), and I said, 'Can you believe we're getting paid for this?'â€ť explained Stricker, playing partner by his side, on the 18th green after the championship had been decided and before the post-event ceremony. â€śThe course is in great condition, the galleries came out to support us, it's amazing.
â€śIt's a credit to Brad and Billy and what they're doing,â€ť he added. â€śThis is where they grew up, and they decided years ago they wanted to give back. It's their area, and it's fantastic what Brad and Billy and CVS give back to the community. They've built a legacy, and that's something we as golfers have been taught. Peter Jacobsen leads the way. It's about charitable giving. It's just something golfers do.â€ť
â€śJust playing in it and getting our names on the trophy is unbelievable.â€ť
Van Pelt noted â€śit was a great back-and-forth between us (and the team of Jacobsen/Walker).â€ť
Call that a massive understatement. To indicate how wild this final round was, at 11:24 a.m., seven teams remained just four strokes behind the leader, and five within three.
Still, the drama began to boil over the final six holes.
After making the turn with a one-shot lead (and a front-nine 30 for a minus-15), Van Pelt and Stricker birdied both the par-three 10th and par-five 11th to move to 17-under overall. In the interim, however, Walker and Jacobsen fought back with three consecutive birds on the 11th, par-four 12th and par-four 13th to finally knot their â€śfoesâ€ť at 17-under.
On the 14th, a 390-yarder, Stricker broke the deadlock with a birdie putt, and the champs did the same on the 401-yard 15th, but Jacobsen responded with one of his own from 12 feet to pull his team back to a one-stroke deficit.
On the 145-yard No. 17, Jacobsen planted his tee shot in the right-side bunker, though Walker landed his 10 feet from the cup. The former dropped his try from the sand for the bird that tied it once more at 19-under.
That proved to be short-lived, though, as Stricker canned one from approximately 10 feet to move him and his partner to minus-20.
As for the 398-yard finishing hole, Walker helped his veteran teammate study the 12-foot downhill putt belonging to Jacobsen, one that would have tied it and forced a sudden-death playoff. When it missed by an inch to the low side, it causing the crowd surrounding the 18th to groan.
The eventual victors also parred, so the pair had to settle for runner-up honors; they would share the $200,000 second prize, while the victors landed the top $300,000 award.
â€śJimmy was unbelievable (Tuesday),â€ť Jacobsen stated afterward. â€śHe birdied the first two holes, but it was like we were one behind all day. We birdied the 13th to tie, but they birdied the 14th to go ahead. I made a putt on 15, but Steve drained one, too.
â€śJimmy had a 10-footer on 17, and I was in the trap; I thought it was up to him, but he said, 'Hey, that ball can go in from anywhere, so give it a try!' and I holed it,â€ť he continued. â€śBut Steve made his putt to put them in front again.
â€śIt was a great match, no question. Sure we'd like to have won, but â€“ for me â€“ getting the chance to play with Jimmy, one of the best golfers in the world, is a real thrill. Then again, all three (in my foursome) are.
â€śI've been off the tour for about 10 years, and I don't play as much as I'd like to, but this was fantastic.â€ť
Walker, who had already won three PGA titles this year, loved his introduction to the Classic.
â€śWe did a good job of reading the greens; that's why we stayed close,â€ť he said. â€śThis definitely lived up to expectations. CVS had a great week, as did Brad and Billy. We all came out and raised money for charity, which makes me feel great. I'd love to come back.â€ť
Event newcomers Russell Henley and Harris English finished with a second-round 63 to sit in a third-place tie with Suzann Pettersen and Jonas Blixt, who joined hands to shoot a solid 61 on Tuesday.
Three other teams were knotted in fifth at 128 (14-under), among them Faxon/Erik Compton; Andrade-Bill Haas; and Hunter Mahan-Jason Dufner.
The 2011 champion duo of Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson ballooned to a final-round 68 to take ninth at 133 (behind Lexi Thompson/Billy Horschel's 129), and LPGA Tour vets Juli Inkster and Morgan Pressel shot back-to-back 67s for an eight-under 134.
CHIP SHOTS: Neither Faxon nor Andrade have ever won their own tournament in their 16 years, but Andrade nevertheless found his Tuesday outing more than special. On the 145-yard 17th, he landed his tee shot just three feet from the cup to capture the â€śClosest to the Pinâ€ť laurel.
With it, he earned $25,000 for his charity, Special Olympics Rhode Island.
â€śIt means a lot to me; I grew up with Special Olympics because of my brother,â€ť offered Andrade, who has won the same contest three of the past four years. â€śI mean, $25,000 is a lot of money, and I know it will pay for a lot of games and programs for the kids and adults who are a part of it.â€ť
As for how the co-hosts saw this particular installment of the Classic, Andrade stated, â€śI thought it was fortunate to see the course play the way it did. It was in such good shape, and it was playing hard with the wind. We've played here for 16 years, and we've never seen the same kind of day; the strength of the field was excellent, with nine of the men in the top 50, and two of the women (likewise).
â€śWe all do a good job of mixing it up, getting younger players like Hunter (Mahan), Russell (Henley) and Jonas (Blixt).
â€śThis is a Rhode Island event, and everyone has an important role in it,â€ť he continued. â€śIt's nice to have a tournament like this at our home in this state, and it benefit so many charities (state- and region-wide).â€ť
When a media member asked if they ever thought they'd see it progress the way it has, Faxon explained, â€śI remember walking off the 18th with Billy (in the initial tourney) saying, 'Look at this. It's incredible.' We never thought, 'We have to do this for the next 16 years and see how it goes.' It's amazing how these people want to come here. I don't think a lot of courses (around the state) could pull this off.
â€śLook at this (field),â€ť he added. â€śWe got lucky. We invited Erik Compton a couple of months ago, and we didn't know he was going to finish second at the U.S. Open. And Jonas came out of nowhere and had a great Masters. It sparks interest.â€ť