Tiger Woods was locked in another Sunday duel that helped TV ratings soar. This duel, at the AT&T National, Woods was matched against former Oklahoma State star Bo Van Pelt.
In what essentially turned into a match-play back-nine, Van Pelt equaled Woods shot for shot before Van Pelt bogeyed the final three holes.
Woods captured his 74th title, surpassing Jack Nicklaus for second-most PGA Tour wins. Van Pelt posted his 16th top-10 finish since 2010, most among any player without a victory over that span.
“The ultimate goal is to win golf tournaments,” Van Pelt said Monday in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “But my goal each week is put myself in position to win. I figure the more times I do that the better chance I’ll have to win one.”
The focus was on Woods, but it was Van Pelt who produced drama Sunday at steamy Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
Three times Woods took the lead the final round. Each time, Van Pelt answered with a birdie, including a birdie on the par-4 No. 15 to get to 9-under.
The defining moment was the 579-yard, par-5 No. 16.
Van Pelt, from Tulsa, was in position to take the lead after Woods’ approach shot rolled down the slope behind the green. Van Pelt failed to capitalize when his 6-iron landed in the rough next to the green.
His feet planted in a sand trap, the ball sitting knee high, Van Pelt advanced the ball only five feet. His next attempt, a flop shot, rolled 12 feet past the hole. Both players bogeyed the hole.
“I was trying to get the ball up in the air and got underneath it a little,” Van Pelt said. “I thought I hit my second one great. I was surprised it rolled that far. And the putt, I’ve probably never hit a better putt in my life under those kind of circumstances.”
It was Van Pelt’s third career second-place finish. He owns one career win, capturing the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee three years ago.
“If you put me back in the same spot, I’d try to hit every shot the same again today,” Van Pelt said. “I had a couple that didn’t come off the way I wanted, but I wouldn’t change the way I played them. That helps me deal with the loss a little better. Every time you put yourself in that position you learn from it.”
Having formed a 20-year friendship dating back to Woods’ career at Stanford, while Van Pelt was at OSU, the pair was chatty on Saturday. They virtually had the course to themselves due to storm damage that prevented fans from attending the third round.
Van Pelt joked that Woods finally got to experience the type of gallery he plays in front of every week.
“We give each other a hard time and tell jokes,” Van Pelt said. “It seems we both play pretty well the times we play together.”
Ranked 16th on this year’s money list ($2.13 million), Van Pelt has six top-10 finishes, most on tour.
“I take a lot of pride in my consistency,” Van Pelt said. “I’ve had the same coach, Mark Wood, since 2000. We’ve been real consistent with our thoughts on my long game. That’s what’s helped me be consistent.
“If my golf swing gets a little off, we can fix it in the middle of a round. That helps me to not have big lulls. That’s a big factor. Plus, I like different types of golf courses, whether it’s a short course like Colonial or a longer course.”
Van Pelt has carved out a trademark. He didn’t chew gum while playing until his caddie offered him some earlier this year. Van Pelt chomped on gum Saturday.
“It actually helps my rhythm,” Van Pelt said. “I’ve had people tell me I need to stop, and other people think it’s funny. But in the near future I’ll probably be still chewing some when I play.”
Van Pelt will take the next two weeks off before playing in four consecutive tournaments, starting with the British Open. This week, he will relax. Next week, he’ll work on his game before flying overseas to Lancashire’s Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club.
“I’m pleased with all the good shots I hit under pressure,” Van Pelt said. “That’s the ultimate test of where your game is. It’s like (former OSU) Coach (Mike) Holder used to tell us, ‘You’re either getting better or getting worse. You’re never the same.’
“There are always things you want to improve on, but I don’t feel I have a glaring weakness. I feel very comfortable right now. Hopefully, I can keep putting myself in position to win one.”