Harris English wins Travelers Championship in epic eight-hole playoff

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CROMWELL, Conn. — Golf’s a funny game.

Harris English went seven years without a win. Now he has two victories in 15 starts in the past five months.

English’s win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January at Kapalua was emotional because of the long wait.

English’s win on Sunday at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands must have felt like seven years, because it took eight playoff holes for him to do it.

English outlasted Kramer Hickok, who was seeking his first PGA Tour win in his 68th start, by burying a 16-foot birdie putt on the eighth playoff hole. It was the fifth time they played the 18th hole during the playoff.

The match ended at 8:09 p.m. and it was likely there was enough light for one more hole had he not won it there.

It was English’s fourth career victory and it was as sweet as they come.

“That was awesome,’’ English said, “What an experience. Hats off to Kramer. We were both grinding out there.’’

The PGA Tour record for playoff holes is 11, at the 1949 Motor City Open, where Lloyd Mangrum and Carey Middlecoff agreed to be co-champions when darkness set in and the holes were unplayable.

The longest playoff at the Travelers Championship playoff before Sunday was seven holes, which occurred in 1961 and ’62.

English, playing two groups in front of Hickok, who was in the final pairing having taken a share of the 54-hole lead, looked like he had the tournament won in regulation when he drained a 28-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole, unleashing a mad uppercut fist pump.

That got him to 13-under par with Hickok at 12-under.

Hickok, Jordan Spieth’s roommate in college at Texas, looked to have spoiled his chance to tie it when he hit his wedge approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the front left bunker on 18 in regulation.

That was the bunker from where Spieth holed out to win the 2017 Travelers. Hickok splashed out to 9 feet and made the must-make to force extra holes, sending the huge crowd around 18 into a frenzy.

As he walked off the green to sign his card, chants of “Kramer Hickok’’ rang through the crowd, which craved more golf. It had to be the first time in Hickok has ever heard his name chanted by fans.

When Hickok’s putt went in, English, getting a few swings in on the practice range several hundred yards away to stay loose, heard the roars and nodded as if to say, “OK, back to work.’’

The first playoff hole was No. 18, which both parred, though English’s par was more impressive after he’d pushed his tee shot into the deep right rough on a side hill.

On the second playoff hole, it was English who needed to get up and down from the Spieth bunker for par to extend play. A moment earlier, Hickok looked like he had the tournament won but his birdie putt burned the left edge of the cup and stayed tantalizingly out.

The two went to the 17th hole for the third playoff hole, where they both made pars.

Back to 18 for the fourth extra hole, English this time hit his tee shot into the left rough, leaving himself with the ball below his feet from 135 yards. He hit it onto the green and Hickok was again in the Spieth bunker, from where he’d again get up and down for par.

Back to 17, where Hickok again looked like he had the thing won, again watching his birdie putt rim out, this time from the right side of the cup.

That sent the to the 18th yet again for a sixth playoff hole. Both hit their tee shots into the bunker to the left of the fairway. This time, though, it was advantage English as Hickok left his approach shot short of the green and English stuffed his shot to 6 feet for birdie.

Figuring he needed to make it, Hickok rammed his birdie attempt from the front fringe some 15 feet past the hole. Faced with the dreaded “you’re-still-away’’ scenario, he proceeded to bury the comebacker for par.

That left English standing over his 6-foot, 3-inch birdie putt for the win. His attempt to win squirted to the right of the cup, never touching the hole, sending the two players back to the 18th tee for the fifth time of the playoff.

In an interesting twist, Hickok was playing with a caddie working for him for the first time because his previous looper ditched him for Sungjae Im, believing that would be a more profitable bag.

Billy Spencer left Hickok for Im and Hickok hired William Lanier, who’d been working for Wesley Bryan before Bryan injured himself and is out for the year.

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