The final round, which concluded with the largest playoff in history, was one that no one playing — or watching — will forget. The emotionally draining few hours captured everything that makes sports great.
There had never been anything like it before.
And there hasn’t been since.
Somehow, some way, seven players tied for first place at the 2007 Boeing Classic.After 54 holes, Denis Watson, R.W. Eaks, Gil Morgan, Craig Stadler, Dana Quigley, Joe Ozaki and David Eger were at 9 under. It is still the largest playoff on any of the major golf tours.
2017 Boeing Classic
Where: The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge.
Monday: Seahawks Rumble at the Ridge, 8:30 a.m.
Tuesday: Practice rounds, all day; youth clinic, noon
Wednesday-Thursday: Korean Air Pro-Am, tee times start at 7 a.m.
Friday: First round, tee times start at 11:30 a.m.
Saturday: Second round, tee times start at 10 a.m.
Sunday: Final round, tee times start at 7:30 a.m.
Tickets and information: Go to boeingclassic.com
This year’s Boeing Classic, for players 50 and older, begins Friday at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge. It would be impossible to upstage what took place on Aug. 26, 2007.
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“It was amazing how water found its level at 9 under,” said Chuck Nelson, the former UW football star who was tournament director. “Some guys made birdies to get there and some bogeys (and double bogeys) to get there. And in the end, we had a touchdown of guys at 9 under.”
But the record-book distinction doesn’t begin to capture what happened that day.
It doesn’t capture the heartbreak of Ray Stewart. He was the unlikely leader through two rounds, then seemingly lost the tournament with a disastrous 15th hole, then when given another chance, lost it again on the 17th.
It doesn’t capture the amazing resolve of Watson, who ended up holding the trophy. Less than an hour earlier, he had been beating himself up for a disastrous finish, angry that he was in a playoff instead of celebrating a win.
And it doesn’t capture what it was like for Eger, who finished an hour before the leaders and was pondering whether to drink the beer next to him after making a birdie on each of the final five holes to get to 9 under. Surely, he thought, there was no way that score would be good enough to get into a playoff. Right? He left the beer unopened.
Then there was Jerry Pate, who like Stewart missed the playoff by a shot. Like Eger, Pate finished well before the leaders; he made a bogey on the easy par-5 18th. Little could he have known then that a par would have gotten him into the playoff, and a birdie would have given him a win.
Instead, he was a forgotten man.
That’s the kind of Sunday it was. No one playing — or watching — can forget the emotionally draining few hours that captured everything that makes sports great.
A fitting finish
Nelson saw it coming a few holes ahead of time.
“I’m seeing this, and it looked like we were going to have 100 guys (in a playoff),” he said, exaggerating only a bit.
So Nelson was in communication with the lead rules official, making a plea to have the players go out in one group if a large playoff occurred. Nelson remembered a large playoff in a Web.com Tour event when players went out in two groups. He wanted no part of that.
“I wanted the drama of one group, and fortunately we were all in agreement,” he said.
So, for the first time in professional golf history, seven players played together.
“What a scene it was,” Watson said. “There were golf carts everywhere. You couldn’t keep track of where everyone was.”
With darkness looming, Nelson was worried about how long the playoff might last. Would it continue into Monday? No one wanted that.
In the end, it took two holes (both on the 18th). It almost ended in one.
Eaks seemed on the verge of winning with a birdie as the six others seemed destined to make par. But Stadler made a tough 22-foot putt to match him, and Watson chipped in from off the green. So it was down to three.
On the second playoff hole, all three hit the green with their second shots, giving each eagle putts. After Stadler missed from long range, Watson made a difficult 18-footer. When Eaks missed from 12 feet, it was over.
But the memories live on.
Stewart, Watson, Eaks, Eger and Morgan were interviewed for this story. Stadler and Quigley did not return requests. Ozaki is living in Japan and was unavailable.
The five interviewees remembered each of their closing holes with amazing detail, recounting each shot and their swing of emotions.
So here is a look back, with recollections from those who played some of the biggest roles.
Ray Stewart’s heartbreak
The final round began with Stewart holding a four-shot lead. That Stewart was even in the tournament defied odds. On that Monday, he was one of eight players in a 44-player qualifier to earn a spot in the tournament. In Stewart’s case, he had to advance in a qualifier the week before just to get into the Monday qualifier.
But if no one knew Stewart, a medical-equipment businessman from Abbotsford, B.C., before the tournament, they did now. He was the surprise leader after Friday’s first round, then built on that lead in the second round.
For Stewart, who had finished second in two PGA Tour events two decades earlier, it was a time to treasure. His son, Brett, was caddying for him, and a large group of family and friends had come down to cheer him on. He was 18 holes from not only the first-prize check of $245,000 but a one-year exemption on the Champions Tour (recently renamed PGA Tour Champions).
He was truly on the verge of a life-changing event.
If he was feeling the nerves, he didn’t show it through the first 14 holes. He was even par for the day and still at 10 under and with a great chance to win.
But disaster struck. Stewart got onto the green with his third shot on the easy par-5 15th, then took four putts. The double-bogey seven dropped him three shots out of the lead and seemingly out of contention.
Then, after he came back and made a birdie on the 16th while others had faltered, he was back into a share of the lead when he reached the 17th hole. Disaster struck again. He hit it into the water and took a double bogey. He birdied the final hole, but it left him one shot out of the playoff.
“It was great, with the exception of those two holes,” said Stewart, whose eighth-place check was $200,000 less than the winner’s share. “It was exciting, there were a lot of friends there, but it was those two holes … ”
As badly as Stewart felt about those two holes, he thought he had earned an exemption into the following week’s event at Pebble Beach, Calif., by virtue of his top-10 performance.
But driving back to Canada so he could take a Monday flight to California, he got bad news: Due to a technicality, the spot he thought he had was going to someone else.
“That was tough,” Stewart said. “But that was a long time ago.”
He did not play again on the Champions Tour.
The winner makes amends
Watson was seeing red. He felt he should have been giving a victory speech, not heading back to the 18th hole for the playoff.
“I told the guys when I got to the tee that they should tell me thank you, because we shouldn’t be playing,” Watson said.
Indeed, he had been in position to win when he reached the difficult par-3 17th with a one-shot lead.
“I remember watching the whole thing; I was thinking I was going to win the tournament,” he said. “But 17 was a wake-up call.”
Watson loved his tee shot on contact, but soon realized he had misjudged the wind. That wind took the ball left and into the water.
“I didn’t feel the wind,” he said. “It was a shock (it went in the water) since I hit a good shot.”
Watson made a double bogey, and when he missed a birdie putt inside 10 feet on the 18th, he joined the growing group at 9 under.
Watson was still disgusted with himself while signing a few autographs after the final hole of regulation. His mind kept going back to what he should have done differently, but then his mindset changed.
“I got an attitude of resolve, and now that I’m in the playoff, let’s win the damn thing,” he said.
That he did was extraordinary. He was faced with a 23-foot chip on the first playoff hole that he had to make to stay alive. But Watson was convinced he had the perfect line and pictured chipping it in.
“I absolutely felt like I would make that shot,” he said. “I was in that mental space that you wish you could get into more often.”
Watson remained in that rare mental space while facing his 18-foot eagle putt on the second playoff hole, a putt Eaks recalled had about 6 feet of break.
“I saw it going in before I hit it,” Watson said. “And when it happens, it’s incredible.”
When Eaks missed from 12 feet, Watson had gone from beating himself up to rejoicing.
“It was one of my great moments ever, to make an eagle to win the biggest playoff in professional history,” he said.
It was also a moment celebrated at more than 30,000 feet. Watson’s wife was boarding a plane before the playoff began. During the flight, she asked the flight attendant if she could get an update.
When the pilot announced Watson had won, the flight erupted with cheers.
Eaks, like Stewart, had a chance to win in regulation. He bogeyed the 17th when he and his caddie did not notice the tee had been moved up. Eaks thought he had hit a perfect shot, only to see it sail way over the green.
“Dana Quigley looked at my caddie and said, ‘You’re the best player on my team,’ ” Eaks said.
On the 18th hole, Eaks said he nearly holed a shot that would have won it in regulation, but it popped out and he, too, finished at 9 under.
On the first hole of the playoff, after hitting his third shot 18 inches from the hole, he went to the other end of the green while the others were struggling.
“I started practicing my victory speech,” Eaks said.
Of course, it was one he never gave after Watson and Stadler improbably matched his birdie.
On the second playoff hole, he was in the best shape after being the closest to the flag when his long-range approach shot stopped 12 feet from the hole. But Eaks was suddenly on the hot seat when Watson sank his 18-footer. Eaks had to make his eagle putt to continue.
“I couldn’t have done anything better,” he said. “It wasn’t my time. It was a fun playoff.”
Eger was just happy to be in the playoff. He could hardly believe his good fortune.
“Looking at the leaders coming in, if just one played par golf there would not be a playoff,” Eger said. “But you never know.”
That was why he had decided not to drink the beer.
Eger only wishes he had made it past the first playoff hole and joked that maybe he made the wrong decision when it came to the beer.
“Not drinking it didn’t make much of a difference,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe the beer would have helped.”
Morgan, known as “Dr. Gil” because he has a doctoral degree in optometry, might have been the favorite to win the playoff, having already won 24 times on the Champions Tour. He birdied the 17th hole to get to 9 under but failed twice to birdie the 18th, first in regulation and then in the playoff.
But he enjoyed being part of history. He had played in a PGA Tour playoff with five players, but this was nothing like he had ever imagined.
“The largest playoff in history — that’s pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s so hard to get that many players close to the lead. One or two players usually pull away from the field. I just wish I could have made a birdie on that first playoff hole to have a chance of surviving.”
10 years later
Ray Stewart: Stewart, 63, never played in another Champions Tour event, although in 2009 he captured the Canadian Senior PGA Championship.
But don’t feel sorry for Stewart, because he certainly doesn’t.
He is still in the medical-equipment business, and no longer plays competitively. He said he has played five times this year, four of them during a recent golf vacation with friends in Whistler, B.C.
When asked if he imagines how his life might have changed had he earned a one-year exemption onto the Champions Tour, he answered quickly and emphatically.
“No, no, no,” he said. “I never try to look back. I always look forward.”
Denis Watson: Watson, 61, won two more times the next season, then had his career derailed by back and knee surgeries. He began playing again last summer, and said he was playing some of the best golf of his life. The plan was to play on the PGA Tour Champions this year, and he was looking forward to playing in the Boeing Classic again.
But in April, while playing in the South African Senior Open, he had about a 240-yard shot from under a tree. He took a mighty swing and “completely whiffed,” just nicking a branch. In the process, he severely injured his shoulder.
Watson said he lost half of his range of motion and can’t play.
“I have five kids, and that keeps me busy, but it’s depressing not being able to play, especially after I was playing so well last summer.”
R.W. Eaks: Like Watson, Eaks won twice in 2007 and twice in 2008. But in his final victory in 2008, misfortune struck. Eaks, now 65, was leading the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn by six shots when he teed off on the dramatically downhill eighth hole. Driving the cart down the steep hill, he stopped while Nick Price was putting below on another hole.
“I was playing with Gil Morgan, and he was talking to his caddie and he ran into the back of me,” Eaks said.
The impact injured Eaks’ neck. He barely held on that day, winning by a shot.
“I couldn’t move my neck, and even today I still can’t look in the air,” he said. “But it’s OK.”
Eaks’ career took a downturn after the injury. He has not played on the Tour since 2015 and only twice since 2013. But he plays every morning now despite needing both knees replaced.
Eaks, a former basketball star at Northern Colorado, is putting that off. He wants to play in the Senior PGA Professional Championship next month, with hopes of earning one of the qualifying berths into the Senior PGA Championship.
David Eger: The man who won the first Boeing Classic in 2005 has retired from competitive golf after finishing with four wins on the Champions Tour. Eger, 65, plays socially at his home club at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, which just finished hosting the PGA Championship.
He said he will always hold fond memories of the Boeing Classic and takes pride in having been the first winner of the event.
Gil Morgan: The disappointment of not winning the playoff did not linger, as Morgan won the next week at Pebble Beach, the last of his 25 wins on the Tour, the fourth-most ever. Morgan, 70, is semiretired, and his only official event this year was in the Legends of Golf.
Morgan said he would like to play a few times next year but has promised his wife he will put that off until they finish remodeling their home on Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla.
Craig Stadler: Stadler, 64 and winner of the 1982 Masters in a playoff, had not won in three years entering the 2007 Boeing Classic. The man nicknamed “The Walrus” put himself into the playoff with birdies on the final two holes. After coming close on that historic Sunday, he finally won again, six years later.
Stadler appears to be semiretired and his only event this season was in the Legends of Golf.
Dana Quigley: He was known as “The Ironman” because he played in 278 consecutive Champions Tour events from 1997 to 2005. The last of Quigley’s 11 wins on the Tour came in 2006.
In 2011, Quigley’s son, Devon, was nearly killed in an automobile accident that left him in a wheelchair and unable to move or speak. Quigley, now 70, cut back on his schedule to help with his son’s care and is no longer playing.
Joe Ozaki: The 61-year-old brother of Japanese legend Jumbo Ozaki, Joe never won on the Champions Tour. He birdied the final hole in regulation to get into the Boeing Classic playoff.
A 32-time winner on the Japanese Tour, he had one other second-place finish on the Champions Tour, in 2010. His last event on the Champions Tour was in 2013.
|Here is how the leaders fared on the final five holes of regulation and in the playoff:|
|14 (4)||15 (5)||16 (4)||17 (3)||18 (5)||1*||2*|
|* playoff holes|