ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (Purdue Sports) — Winning on the PGA TOUR didn't seem possible a few months ago. Tyler Duncan was just worried about regaining his TOUR card.
He needed an 11th-hour Hail Mary, a T4 in the final event of the recent Korn Ferry Tour Finals, to do it.
Professional golfers are always days away from a life-changing achievement, though. And that was the case for Duncan, who won his first PGA TOUR title Sunday at The RSM Classic. The 30-year-old turned pro in 2012. This was his first win in more than 150 starts on PGA TOUR-sanctioned tours.
"You never know, this is a crazy game," Duncan said, "It can go several different directions."
His biggest win before this week was the Indiana State Amateur. Duncan started the week ranked 378th in the world. On Sunday, he held off the highest-ranked player in the field and the hottest player on the PGA TOUR. Duncan made a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, then birdied the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Webb Simpson to win his first PGA TOUR title.
A 2012 Purdue alum, Duncan earned 1.18 million dollars for win, moved from 151st to 11th in the FedExCup standings and earned invitations to events such as the Sentry Tournament of Champions, THE PLAYERS Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship. He also is exempt on the PGA TOUR through the end of the 2022 season.
Duncan finished at 19-under 263, shooting a first-round 67 at Sea Island's Plantation Course before shooting 61-70-65 in the final three rounds on the Seaside Course. He posted the low round of the tournament in the second and final rounds. He birdied three of the final four holes to catch Webb Simpson in the clubhouse, before rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole for his first career victory.
Duncan led at the halfway point after shooting a second-round 61 that included a hole-out from 106 yards. He made 18 pars on a low-scoring Saturday at Sea Island, though, and got lapped by Brendon Todd's 62.
The final round was played in cold, windy conditions, which played to the strengths of the Duncan, who grew up in colder climes. His 65 matched the low round of the day.
"When I saw (the forecast), I was like it's going to be great because you just go out and play solid golf. And one of my strengths is ball‑striking, controlling my ball and I did a pretty good job of that," Duncan said. "Anytime there's wind, you have to be able to really control your ball and it definitely worked in my favor."
Duncan has to rely on accuracy to succeed. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, he ranked 150th in driving distance last season (288.2 yards). He missed just one fairway and two greens Sunday, and finished the week ranked fourth in greens hit and sixth in driving accuracy.
He spent most of the final day outside the spotlight, though. Todd was seeking to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win three consecutive PGA TOUR events. He blocked his approach into the marsh on the fifth hole, though, and made double-bogey. His 2-over 72 ended a streak of 12 consecutive rounds of 68 or lower. He will enter the new year with a 140-point lead in the FedExCup after finishing fourth.
Simpson, the former U.S. Open and PLAYERS champion who is soon to represent the U.S. in the Presidents Cup, took a two-shot lead into the back nine. Recent winner Sebastián Muñoz caught Simpson in the middle of the back nine, but Simpson holed a 22-footer for birdie on 16 to take a one-shot lead. He stared down the putt before pumping his fist when it dropped in the hole.
After Simpson teed off on 17, a roar went up from 18 for Duncan's closing birdie. Simpson holed five-foot par putts on the final two holes to tie Duncan.
Duncan hit his approach inside Simpson on each playoff hole. Duncan missed from 22 feet on the first extra hole before making a 13-footer for the win.
He made his only bogey of the week on the first hole Sunday, but made six birdies and no bogeys the rest of the day. He preceded his birdie on 18 by holing a 7-foot birdie putt on the 192-yard, par-3 17th.
"He's very strong mentally," said his caddie, Zach Guthrie, who was the assistant coach at Illinois while Duncan was playing for Purdue.
Duncan proved that Sunday and it resulted in his first PGA TOUR title, an accomplishment that once felt far away.