Sunday, June 19, 2011

Battle by the bay - the 2011 Inaugural

by Farfel Miller III
June 19, 2011

Jim Archibald and Chris Archibald during the IBC's first round at Stanford

Palo Alto, CA - After watching Rory McIlroy convincingly overcome his previous troubles with the last round of a major, it seemed fitting to write a column about the major just the weekend before that, no doubt, gave him inspiration in how to finish off a major with a huge lead headed into the final round. That major was the 2011 Inaugural Bay-Area Championship (IBC) and the leader headed into the last round was perennial AGA favorite Chris Archibald. His lead, a whopping five strokes.

Thom Archibald tees off at Stanford

Chris built this lead on the Stanford University Golf course on the first day of the tournament. From the first hole it was clear that he was on his game, and that the tournament would be hotly contested, as Chris and Jim Archibald both birdied the par 5 opening hole. The Stanford course was set up to play to its full, glorious length, and proved a challenging foe. Chris' game proved the steadiest throughout the day, as the length and breadth of the course tested the other competitors games to the point of breaking. By the end of the day, Chris' lead stood at five strokes over Thom Archibald, his nearest competitor, and 7 over Jim Archibald, both of whom edged out the rest of the field to make the final group for the tournament's last round.

Jim Archibald chips to a green at Stanford

The final round was played on the beautiful Half Moon Bay course, which did a great job as it hosted its first AGA Major tournament. The course was shrouded in fog for the duration of the round, which made it hard for any but the nearest spectators to glimpse the captivating action.

"It was hard to even see the flags at times from the fairway, the fog was so dense," spoke Thom when asked about the conditions, "but the course was set up beautifully. There is something mysterious about hitting shots into the mist, unable to see exactly where they end up."

Chris Archibald hits an approach shot at Half Moon Bay

If we have learned anything from past Inaugurals, it is that no lead is too safe (remember 2009, when Chris overcame a 9 stroke deficit in 8 holes?) This proved true this year as well, but now it was Chris on the other side of the equation. Jim rallied early to tie the tournament standing on the 12th tee.

Thom Archibald at Half Moon Bay

"My game was really solid over the first 9 holes, but really I was just taking advantage of a few uncharacteristic misses by Chris", Jim said of his comeback, "mainly it was nice to be in contention on the back nine, especially after my disappointing first round."

Jim Archibald at Half Moon Bay

The biggest mishap that Jim was referring to was a hooked drive OB by Chris on number 10, when the gap had already been closed to three strokes. Following the carnage of that hole, the rest of his lead quickly evaporated and things were back where they had started after the first hole birdies at Stanford: all square between Chris and Jim.

And things didn't get better for Chris after the tee shots on the 221 yard par 3. Chris hooked his 3 iron into the long native grass on a hillside adjacent to the green. "That has been my miss this tournament, the big hook," said Chris, "I really need to go back to the drawing board and get it out of my system."

Jim also missed the green, but faced a much more manageable situation, chipping from close to the green. That is when Chris decided to turn things around, and in my opinion, firmly staked his claim to the tournament.

He flopped a masterful sandwedge out of the gnarly grass and rolled it to about 10 feet from the hole. Then he proceeded to sink the putt. Jim uncharacteristically failed to get up and down, and the lead was Chris' again. He held onto this lead until the last few holes, where the pressure of coming from behind finally got to Jim's putting stroke, and several short putts eluded his grasp. Chris had won the tournament, his first Major in 4 years. His final margin of victory: four strokes.

Chris Archibald at Half Moon Bay

Thom, out of the mix on the exciting back nine, was gracious in defeat. "It just wasn't my day today. I don't know if it was the fog, the moisture, or the fact that I couldn't see the fans as well as normal, but it just wasn't my day. Chris conquered the elements and the courses and deserved this victory."

It was a thrilling Inaugural, certainly one to remember, for both the stunning courses and the captivating play. Here is one sports-writer who hopes the rumors aren't true, and that the AGA tour officials find a way to keep this tournament in major rotation. After all, who knows when the next Rory McIlroy will need to draw inspiration from the play of an Inaugural Champion.

The final group after the tournament's conclusion