Deutsche Bank finish a crowd-pleaser

NORTON, Mass. -- It's only fitting that a PGA tournament in the Boston area would have its very own Green Monster.

Painted Fenway Park green, the grandstand behind the 528-yard, par-5 18th hole rose from the TPC Boston grass like a heavyset brother of the famed Red Sox wall. And from its perch, surrounded by a wide expanse of manicured grass and spectators wearing Sox hats, a golf fan could be forgiven for thinking he'd ended up in the wrong arena.

But on Monday, for the thousands of fans who came from across the region on a humid Labor Day for the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, the PGA Tour's lone Massachusetts stop, the Norton Monster provided its unique brand of thrills.

Early in the day, well before any of the leaders were even on the practice range, North Attleboro's Paul Shannon sat atop the bleachers with his 9-year-old son, Paul III. It was the Shannons' second day at the course ("On Sunday, we hung around the practice range all day so Paul could get as many autographs as possible," the elder Shannon said), and with Ricky Barnes coming up 18, the boy was excited.

"I brought a football card of Ricky's dad [Bruce Barnes, who punted for the Patriots in the early 1970s) and I'm going to try to get Ricky to sign it," he said, displaying the card in his small palm.

After Barnes carded his 77, the younger Shannon sprinted to the fence just outside the scorer's trailer, where the players usually sign autographs. When Barnes emerged from the trailer, the 9-year-old began waving his card in the air.

"Ricky! Ricky! Hey, Ricky, I have your dad's card," he called.

Barnes soon noticed and walked over.

"Wow," he said when seeing the card. "What a great find. I have that same one. But are you sure you want me to sign it?"

The boy nodded yes, and Barnes signed the card and handed it back as the thrilled youngster turned and ran to his dad.

The excitement continued at 18 throughout the day. Just after noon, seated in the bleachers' fifth row, Jeanne Dee watched her godson, Worcester, Mass., native Scott Stallings, roll in his final putt of the weekend. Though he would finish at 2 under, tied for 52nd place, Dee was happy.

"He's such a good kid," she said. "He's really deserving of this."

Two groups after Stallings, 2009 Deutsche Bank winner Steve Stricker provided some fireworks when he barely missed a long putt for eagle that left 18-hole volunteer marshal Lauren Egan breathless.

"I just love this," said the engineer from Franklin, Mass., after Stricker converted his birdie. "You're so close to the players. You really see some great golf. And I tell people, watching it here live is so much different than watching it on TV. The action is just amazing. As long as they have the tournament here, I'll keep coming back."

By the time David Toms and Charley Hoffman came up 18 at 3:30 p.m., the grandstand crowd had swelled to capacity.

"We're all friends here," one woman said, two spectators squeezing in next to her just as Toms dropped in a birdie. Soon after, gasps rippled through the crowd as the manual scoreboard operator replaced leader Luke Donald's red 15 with a 13.

"He must have double-bogeyed 12," someone announced. "This is getting exciting."

The excitement neared its peak several groups later when Phil Mickelson strolled up 18 to the loudest applause of the day. Cheers rang out across the stands.

"We love you, Phil!"

"You're the man, Phil!"

"Let's go, Phil!"

The affable Mickelson would convert his par for a 69 to finish the tournament at 9 under, good for a 10th-place tie.

"It was fun to get off to a good start, make some birdies," Mickelson said. "I knew that the course was going to be fairly difficult today because of the wind. But it didn't really enter my mind about winning until I was going to get to 12 under or 13 under. That's kind of my number where I thought I could take a peek. But I never quite got there."

He actually would have needed better than 13 under to win. While Sunday's leader, Bubba Watson, struggled through a seven-bogey round of 74, two other young players -- Webb Simpson, 26, and Chez Reavie, 29 -- surged up the leaderboard late Monday.

By the time Simpson arrived at 18, he was 14 under, just two shots behind Reavie, who had birdied the 16th. After a good third shot to the green, Simpson knocked home a 30-foot birdie putt for a 6-under 65.

"I didn't know that [Reavie] had birdied 16 until I was on the green at 18," Simpson said. "I was reading my putt and I glanced at the leaderboard, and I saw he was at -16. It just gave me more reason to try to make it."

Reavie marched up 18 three groups later, clinging to a one-shot lead. All he needed was a par on the final hole to seal the win, but his third shot airmailed the green and wound up deep in the back rough.

"I had 119 yards to the flag," Reavie said. "I had 113 up to that top shelf, which is all I had to carry it. The wind was off to the right, so I took a 54-degree wedge and I was just going to hit it three-quarters, and I did that and pulled it a little bit and then the wind switched from off the right and in to off the right and down and I pulled it on top of it, which just made [the shot] go even farther."

Needing to get up and down for the win, Reavie pushed his chip 10 feet past the hole, then missed the par putt, dropping him to 15 under and punching his ticket for a playoff with Simpson.

"I just didn't play enough break," Reavie said of the putt. "And it just broke and I missed it just low."

The Deutsche Bank playoff format called for sudden death, beginning on the 18th hole and continuing with 17 and 18 again if necessary. As Simpson and Reavie made their way to the 18th tee, Norton's Green Monster was electric.

"You can't write this," said Jay Kennedy, a Cape Cod resident sitting in the grandstand's second row. "You just can't make it up."

The first playoff hole would end in a tie, as both Reavie and Simpson made birdies. Then, following good tee shots from both players on 17, Simpson hit a beautiful second shot that landed just 8 feet from the hole. With Reavie looking at par, Simpson drilled his birdie putt for the win and the $1.4 million prize.

"I don't really know what to think right now, but I'm certainly thankful for the chance to win," Simpson said after the victory, which rocketed him to first place on the FedEx Cup points list with 4,711. "And having been able to finish the round with a birdie and then birdie the first two holes in a playoff was truly awesome.

"To be at No. 1 in the FedEx Cup with two weeks to go, I couldn't expect anything more. You know, the goal for us is to be in the top five going into Atlanta [the final FedEx Cup event], and it looks like I'm in a good position to do that, so I'm thrilled."

After Simpson dropped in his winning putt, the bleachers at 18 emptied quickly. But one couple lingered on Norton's Green Monster, not quite ready for the weekend to end.

"We don't want to leave yet," said Marshfield, Mass., resident Derek Freitas, 31, as he sat watching the trophy presentation with his girlfriend, 27-year-old Ally Welch. "When you're watching a great sports moment, you want to see it all the way to the end. We had so much fun today. We'll definitely be back next year."

Tom Lakin covered the Deutsche Bank Championship for ESPNBoston.com.