Tyler Duncan's win at the RSM Classic caps a PGA Tour fall filled with surprises
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — If Brendon Todd has taught us anything this fall, it's that a former winner on the PGA Tour can climb back from even the darkest of depths. But what about a guy who has never won at the game's highest level? More specifically, one who has never won on any significant level?
Of course, we know that kind of breakthrough is possible as well, because Brendon Todd's recent run was also the latest reminder that these days, if you're good enough to make it to the PGA Tour, you're also good enough to win. A hot putter here, a couple good bounces there, is sometimes all it takes for a magical week. And on a day where the red-hot Todd finally stumbled, Tyler Duncan seized the opportunity.
During a windswept final round at Sea Island Golf Club, Duncan, 30, overcame the elements, a bunched leader board and a sudden-death playoff against the highest-ranked player in the field for his biggest victory since the 2011 Indiana Amateur. That's right, the Indiana Amateur.
"There's not a whole lot there as far as winning," Duncan said when asked about his career résumé following his final-round 65 that was punctuated by a birdie on the second extra hole. "But I've had a lot of different moments that have helped prepare me for this moment and it just hadn't happened yet."
One of those moments that helped came two months ago when a Sunday 66 moved him to T-4 at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship. That clutch finish came on the heels of one of Duncan's two biggest lows since turning pro in 2012: losing his PGA Tour card when he finished 163rd on the FedEx Cup points list at the end of the 2018-'19 season. The Korn Ferry Tour Championship also proved to be important because it's where Duncan worked with current caddie Zach Guthrie for the first time.
"You never know, this is a crazy game," Duncan said of gaining his PGA Tour card back that week. "It can go several different directions."
He didn't seem to be going in the right one, however, with his slow start to the 2019-'20 season. He began with three missed cuts and a T-56 before posting a T-18 at the Bermuda Championship. And a T-48 at last week's Mayakoba Golf Classic didn't portend this week's life-changing performance that gives Duncan job security for this season and the next two, as well as first invites to the Masters and the Players, among other perks.
"It hasn't sunk in. It sounds amazing thinking about it, but I don't think it's completely sunk in yet," Duncan said. "I can sit here and think about everything that's going to be coming and the Players Championship and the Masters and two more seasons exempt on tour. All those things are just unbelievable. I don't think I could honestly process all of that right now, but just thinking about it's pretty awesome."
After taking the 36-hole lead at Sea Island, Duncan's 18 straight pars in the third round saw four players move past him heading into Sunday's final round. An opening bogey dropped him farther back, but six birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way—including rare red numbers on the Seaside Course's closing two holes to match Simpson's 19-under total—got him to a playoff. The juxtaposition there was particularly pronounced as the world's 387th-ranked player, who has never won a single event that awards Official World Golf Ranking points, took on Simpson, the No. 12 player in the world.
But Duncan played like the Presidents Cup team member in the playoff. After hitting 13 of 14 fairways in regulation, he striped two more drives down the middle on No. 18. He stuck his approach on the second playoff hole to 12 feet—he led the field in proximity to the hole for the week—and converted for the win leaving Simpson's eight-footer for par meaningless. Suddenly, it was Duncan's wife, Maria, running onto an 18th green with tears of joy for the first time, while one of golf's most recognizable WAGs, Dowd Simpson, was left wrangling her and Webb's five kids to the side.
"Obviously I would like the drive back in the playoff to give myself a birdie chance, but hats off to Tyler birdieing the last two in regulation and again there in the playoff," said Simpson, who earned a fifth runner-up since his last victory at the 2018 Players Championship. "Tough way to finish, but I gave it everything I had."
Todd's finish was even tougher considering he had played his previous 12 rounds in a staggering 68 under par. Attempting to become the first player to win three consecutive PGA Tour events since Tiger Woods in 2006, Todd made a double bogey on No. 5 when he hit his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the marsh.
"I didn't feel I was in the zone," said Todd, who shot 72 and still finished solo fourth. "I was in this just like adrenaline fueled zone the last three weeks and I couldn't get there today. I think it just didn't start out very good and I wasn't able to kind of—once a double bogey happens, then you're just in this weird fight or flight mentality, so it kind of took all my positive energy away. That was an unfortunate situation. I'll learn from it and just try to keep getting better."
Instead of Todd pulling off the trifecta or Simpson winning his sixth PGA Tour title, it was a man earning his maiden victory on any major tour. Duncan, who is coached by his uncle, Andrew Johnson, a one-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, had only three top-10s in 67 career PGA Tour starts, highlighted by T-5s at this year's AT&T Byron Nelson and the 2018 Safeway Open. With the victory at Sea Island, he cashed easily the largest payday of his career, $1.188 million, an amount four times bigger than anything he'd ever previously earned.
But we should be used to surprises by now considering how the fall portion of the wrap-around season played out. Sure, big names like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas were all victorious. But there was the emergence of Sebastian Munoz, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship and missed Sunday's playoff by a single shot, and Lanto Griffin claimed the Houston Open. And, oh yeah, Brendon freaking Todd turning into a world beater. In all, six players, including Todd, earned Masters invites with wins, double the amount from last fall.
Duncan and his family will enjoy an extra special Thanksgiving now, but then he's got a different kind of pressure-packed event the following week. Former Purdue teammate and fellow PGA Tour pro Adam Schenk is getting married, and Tyler has been tasked with giving the best man's speech. On Friday, Duncan claimed he was more nervous about doing that than being in contention for his first win. But by Sunday evening?
"I think that I was probably a lot more nervous on those couple putts there on 18 than I will be during the speech," he admitted.
After a lifetime of moments that prepared Duncan for this seismic first win, he should feel equipped to handle just about anything.