THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Just as Jerry Kelly was set to clock in for his 10 a.m. tee time Sunday and begin the mammoth task of playing his way back into contention at the Invesco QQQ Championship, a cell phone went off in the front row of the bleachers behind the first tee at Sherwood Country Club with the Madison golfer standing over his first tee shot of the final round.
The phone belonged to an elderly woman who told another fan that the call was a weekly "prayer call" from her church. After two frustrating days of bad breaks and missed opportunities at the second of three stops in the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs, Kelly would have been the first to acknowledge that he could use all the help he could get.
Instead, Kelly calmly backed away from the ball and went through his pre-shot routine one more time before getting his round underway. And then it took him 10 holes before he saw signs — and not necessarily from above — that he still had the game to to win the PGA Tour Champions' postseason.
Kelly shot a 5-under-par 31 on the back nine to salvage a 6-under 66 that rallied him to his 13th top-10 finish in 22 starts this season. At 8-under 208, Kelly finished six shots out of the playoff Colin Montgomerie (63) won with a par over Bernhard Langer (67) after the German needed four shots to get out of a greenside bunker on the par-4 18th hole used for the two-man playoff.
But another top-10 showing wasn't the most meaningful payoff from Kelly's comeback Sunday. While the back nine at Sherwood CC brought him great joy, it brought Scott McCarron — the golfer everyone is chasing at the top of the Charles Schwab Cup standings — to his knees after he played his last five holes in 4-over to finish with a 77 and tumble 35 spots into a tie for 43rd.
McCarron's worst finish in nearly six months couldn't have come at a worse time. It allowed Kelly, who won $50,000 and earned 100,000 Schwab Cup points, to trim the 252,550-point lead McCarron brought here to 170,150 as they head to next week's Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club.
"We talked (Saturday) afternoon that we're just going to go out and play for everything (in Phoenix)," Kelly said, taking the most practical approach to finishing off his effort to erase the rest of McCarron's lead, which had been 478,680 before Kelly won for the third time this season three weeks ago at the SAS Championship in North Carolina.
"We know it's win and you're in. That's all the position we can ask for. All we have to do is go out and do our job."
2019 Charles Schwab Cup Standings
|9,||Miguel ANgel Jimenez||20||1,547,003||2||1,006,512|
With earnings doubled into Schwab Cup points during playoff events, Kelly's finish opened the door to a host of other mathematical possibilities at the finale. But winning cures everything and Kelly looked Sunday like someone ready to win for a fourth time this year when he gets to Phoenix.
Kelly, who hit all 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation Sunday, played the five par-5s at Sherwood CC in 6-under during the final round, highlighted by an eagle on No. 13. His only other birdie came at the par-3 17th hole.
"Some things finally started happening and dropping; it felt good to close it out like that," said Kelly, who missed makable birdie putts on Nos. 1, 6 and 7 but didn't miss his first green until No. 9 where he dumped his approach in a greenside bunker and couldn't get up-and-down, making his lone bogey.
"It was a good fight back. I thought the day was going to be pretty strong at the beginning, but that just didn't materialize again. Finally, it did on the back."
And now it's back to Phoenix CC, where he finished tied for 22nd despite a bad back in 2017 and tied for 12th despite a bum knee and sore elbow in 2018.
"I feel good," Kelly said. "Harry (Sese), my trainer, will be there next week. I'll get my legs back. I'm pretty tired this week, still, from (the) win, (the) short week and did a lot last week. I was excited for this week, but still pretty tired.
"I put myself into a position where, if I win, I've got a great chance. That's all you can ask for. I'd like to have it be win and it's done, but I don't know if that's going to happen or not. That's the ultimate goal: Win the last week and finish strong."