LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–Despite struggles down the stretch, Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz won the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions celebrity division by three points over former All-Star pitcher Mark Mulder under the modified Stableford system.
Pre-tournament favorite Mardy Fish, the former No. 1 U.S. tennis player whom Jack Nicklaus recently urge to play professional golf, finished nine points off the lead at 6,368-yard Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons.
Smoltz shot the equivalent of 65 in Round 2, overtook Thursday-Friday leader Fish in the third round and held on despite struggles on Sunday’s back nine.
He shot 1 under par on the front side and said he couldn’t have played any better in wind that blew steadily at 20 mph and gusted to 30 mph. But then he chunked a second shot into water in double-bogeying 10, shanked a shot in bogeying the 12th, three-putted after driving the green on the par-4, 254-yard 16th and hit his second shot into water in bogeying the par-5 17th.
Smoltz scored 33 points Sunday for 149 total. He said his mind was clogged with numbers late, trying to figure what scores he needed.
“I was playing math the last five holes,” said Smoltz, who qualified for last year’s U.S. Senior Open. “I was counting in my head. I was trying to figure out which points would put me over the top. I played real defensively for obvious reasons. A par for two points is valuable. We went in today saying par is our friend.”
Another friend, former Braves catcher Greg Olson, caddied for Smoltz. “I’m sure I drove him nuts the last couple of holes getting really, really defensive,” Smoltz said.
Mulder, 2017 Diamond Resorts Invitational winner, made two birdies in scoring 34 points Sunday. Two-time champ Fish made five bogeys, a double bogey and no birdies in scoring 29.
Smoltz used an unorthodox putting style for three rounds before it was too windy Sunday. His Bloodline putter stands up by itself after he lines up the stroke and while he checks the putter face’s aim from behind.
“The putter is the reason I’m up here,” he said at the winner’s news conference.
Smoltz said he is putting better than ever with the self-standing putter–which is USGA-conforming but prompts teasing in casual rounds back home.
“Everybody I play with says ‘that’s illegal,’” Smoltz said. “But I think everybody should get one.”
Also, four-time winner Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea won the LPGA’s season-opening, inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions by two strokes over Australian Mirim Lee.
Ji, 2009 U.S. Women’s Open champion, shot 1-under-par 70 Sunday and finished at 14-under-par 270. At 32, she became the oldest LPGA winner from Korea. She led the tournament in birdies with 21. Lee, 22, a four-time winner, led the event in greens in regulation, missing only 11 out of 72.
Former No. 1 Lydia Ko, 20, winner of 15 LPGA titles, was one stroke behind until she double-bogeyed the 526-yard 13th hole after driving left into brush and three-putting. She also missed a short putt in bogeying No. 14. The third-round co-leader closed bogey-double bogey and finished with a 77, seven strokes behind.
Brooke Henderson, 21, of Canada, was the midway leader by two strokes after a pair of 67s but slipped back to a tie for sixth after a final-round 75. The seven-time LPGA winner, ranked ninth in the world, bogeyed three of the last five holes.
The 72-hole nationally televised tournament featured 26 LPGA winners from the past two years playing for $1.2 million and 49 sports and entertainment celebrities competing for $500,000.