GOLF: Blixt outlasts field to claim Open championship

Ernie Els watches his ball land on the green on hole 9 during the final round Sunday at the Open at CordeValle.

As an aspiring hockey player growing up, Jonas Blixt said he didn’t have a professional golf role model. Golf was a just a summer activity in his hometown of Nassjo, Smaland, Sweden.

“I was more interested in ice hockey. I wanted to be an ice hockey player,” Blixt said. “I never really got big enough or good enough to play ice hockey. Golf kind of suited me pretty well.”

Blixt’s earliest memories on the links were manifested at 8 years old with his father, the man who introduced the game to him and instilled the seedlings of the passion he now possesses.

“My dad took me out and played, I think, 27 holes. My mom was furious,” Blixt said laughing.

“I remember fall nights when it (was) really dark. We just kept on playing until we couldn’t see the ball. It was crazy. Dad didn’t want to go home – I didn’t want to go home. My dad loves the game. He’s the biggest grinder I know. The more pressure you put on him, the better he plays.”

Persistence, perhaps, runs in the family. And it served Blixt well Sunday in San Martin.

A clutch birdie on No. 17 settled a serious list of possible playoff scenarios down the stretch of the final round at the Open and ultimately lifted the PGA Tour rookie to his first title long before the sun set of CordeValle Golf Club.

“I couldn’t be happier,” a jovial Blixt said.

Players predicted a shootout, and even though scores didn’t exactly plummet, it sure became quite clustered as a host of hopefuls pushed their way through the lower ranks to crash the party. As many as 10 players had their sights on first place throughout a wild final round.

Six players finished within, at most, two strokes of Blixt  – including Tim Petrovic and Jason Kokrak, who were tied for the clubhouse lead at -15 before Blixt converted on 17.

Blixt, playing in the group behind Kokrak, drove the ball over the green on the short Par 4 17th, forcing him to punch out of the rough back down the sloping green.

“It was a bad lie. The ball came out really good, it just didn’t check like I thought,” Blixt said recounting his shot. “I knew I was going to have to make a putt for birdie – and I did.”

He didn’t take his eyes off his putt as is coasted across the green’s surface. He followed that white dot for what surely seemed like an eternity, lifting his head only win the ball disappeared.

His schedule had one more task to complete as he headed to No. 18, needing a par to win. With a two-putt he solidified the title with a 3-under 68. The celebration was fitting – an exuberant right-armed fist pump and a champagne shower from a group of friends and family that rushed him on the green.

“I got so much champagne in my ear,” Blixt said.

His entourage of friends and family followed the 28-year-old rookie throughout the weekend. And on Sunday the members wore white T-shirts that spelled out Jonas on the front and Blixt on the back.

Blixt’s father was not in attendance Sunday, but instead was back in Sweden. Forty-minutes after clinching the win, Blixt had yet to make the call home.

Blixt, who had four top-five finishes to his credit before this week, took third at last week’s Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but said an off final round, delayed popping the cork on win No. 1. It may have been his inner hockey player carried him through crunch time Sunday. It wasn’t a Stanley Cup, but he looked natural hoisting the Open trophy.

“I really can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “I just told myself, ‘just give it a good hit every time and see what happens. Just focus.’ You can’t do better than your best. That’s what I did on every shot.”

The win earns Blixt Tour exemption through 2014. He is currently 35th on the Tour money list. The top-30 receives a spot into the 2013 Masters.

• Blixt first had a piece of the lead after a birdie on No. 6, leapfrogging John Mallinger, the leader after 36 and 54 holes, who had a bogey on the same hole. A string of eight straight pars kept him around the lead, until a birdie at the Par 5 15th tied him with Petrovic and Kokrak.

• Blixt, who lists his favorite team as the Detroit Red Wings, said the current NHL lockout is “killing me. I hope they can work out a deal soon.”

• Petrovic thought he had a birdie on No. 18 as he watched his putt move toward the hole. He said that the ball hit something around three feet from the cup to shift it off line. It lipped out, and Petrovic had to settle for par.

• Kokrak paced a 49-foot birdie putt less than a foot right of the hole on No. 18. A make would have dropped him to -16.

• Mallinger, who was also in search of his first Tour victory, was still in contention on 17, but he missed a 12-foot putt, which would have moved him to -15 with one to play. He made par on No. 18 to finish 1-over Sunday and -14 in a tie for fourth overall.

• Jimmy Walker (-14) started the day tied for 40th but quickly moved his way up the ladder, finishing with a 9-under, 62 to tie the course record and position himself in a tie for fourth with Vijay Singh and Alexandre Rocha.

• Singh, sitting at -12, had a midrange eagle putt on No. 17, which would’ve put him one back of the leaders at the time (Petrovic and Kokrak). The putt slid right.


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