By Justin Jarret
C.T. Pan raised his arms in a triumphant V and celebrated, not surrounded by cheering throngs of well-hydrated fans, but alone on the driving range at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Just minutes earlier, he had lipped out a birdie putt on the 18th green that certainly would have sealed his first PGA Tour victory. The miss left just enough of a crack through which one of the contenders still on the course might be able to slip, so Pan immediately headed to the range to prepare for a playoff that never came.
Patrick Cantlay’s tight lie in the rough on 18 kept him from taking a real run at the flag, and his chip for a tying birdie didn’t come close, and Shane Lowry couldn’t cash in a miracle eagle on the last hole, leaving Pan as the last man standing on another Sunday in which the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing champion came from well back to slip into a tartan jacket.
“It was very surreal, for sure,” Pan said. “I just didn’t envision my first win like this. I was ready for the playoff. It was so hard to convince myself that I actually had a shot at winning, so I just tried to get myself ready, get prepared for the worst outcome.”
It was anyone’s title to win from the start Sunday, as 19 players began the day within four shots of the lead. Pan was one of them, just two shots behind 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson, but he was mostly an afterthought with names like Johnson, Ian Poulter, Patrick Cantlay, Matt Kuchar, and Webb Simpson still in the hunt.
By the time the final pairing had played two holes, there were five players tied for the lead, but Pan was not among them. He was still two back at 8-under and even through his first four holes. A short birdie putt at the par-5 5th hole jumpstarted his round, and he added back-to-back birdies at Nos. 9 and 10 to move into serious contention.
While the rest of the contenders faltered one-by-one, Pan remained dialed in, sticking his approach at the par-4 12th to 7 feet for a birdie that took him to 12-under. His only hiccup was at the par-5 15th, where he blocked his tee shot right into the trees and had to punch out before failing to save par from the greenside bunker.
“Honestly I feel like I got lucky there,” Pan said, “because I hit four really bad shots and I walked away with a bogey only.”
His response is likely the reason he is a PGA Tour winner. Pan hit his approach at the par-4 16th to 9 feet and buried the birdie putt, then saved par from the bunker at 17 and played the 18th flawlessly to fend off Kuchar, who had slipped into the clubhouse at 11-under and was waiting for Pan to slip up.
“I had to make that birdie on the last. That was a thrill,” said Kuchar, who gave a fist-pump after sinking his 9-foot birdie putt at No. 18. “I thought 11-under might get in a playoff. Hats off to C.T. It was a tough hole. He played awfully steady and solid golf.”
Pan was the No. 1 amateur in the world for a period in 2013 while starring at the University of Washington, where he was a four-time All-American and a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award in 2015. And he won the Mackenzie Tour’s Players Cup in just his fourth professional start, so he had the pedigree that would foreshadow success on the PGA Tour, but it hasn’t come easily.
He made the cut only 14 times in 29 starts in his first full season on the PGA Tour in 2017, and he earned nearly $2 million last season but had only two top-10s, including a runner-up finish at the Wyndham Championship, where he was tied for the lead heading to the 18th hole on Sunday but pushed his tee shot out of bounds and made double bogey.
“That definitely change my perception on the last couple of holes down the stretch of what I should do,” Pan said. “The last three holes I would say I played really well here, a lot of good shots just because I told myself I need to focus on the details, the little things, and just stay in present. … That’s something I didn’t do at Wyndham.”
Pan wasn’t too thrilled about his “colorful” third round Saturday in which he made four bogeys and a double bogey along with six birdies and an eagle. He was back at Harbour Town at 9 a.m. Sunday — almost five hours ahead of his tee time — to put in some work and get dialed in.
He studied the Sunday pin placements Saturday night and formulated a game plan, feeling like if he could get through the first four holes in even par or better, the birdie opportunities would be waiting. And he executed the plan to perfection, picking up a life-changing win in the process.
“It’s really hard out here, everyone is so good,” Pan said. “Even if you do everything right there’s a chance that you don’t win. So I was just very happy that I got it done and secured the W.”
Photos by Jeffery Minnish/Lowco Sports.com