Sepp Straka, now 14th in the FedExCup standings, trailed by five shots entering the final round and tapped in for birdie in the rain on the final hole to beat Shane Lowry by one shot to become the first Austrian winner in PGA TOUR history. He shot a 4-under 66 on Sunday to finish at 10 under and earn $1.44 million.
Lowry shot his third consecutive round of 67, his 9 under total for the week coming up one short. First-round leader Kurt Kitayama (68) was alone in third at 8 under, and Daniel Berger — who led by six shots with 19 holes left in the tournament — simply fell apart Sunday, his round of 74 leaving him 7 under for the week and three shots behind Straka.
Lowry needed to make a 45-footer for birdie on the final hole to force a playoff. It missed, and with that, The Honda Classic had a new champion — one who came into the week ranked No. 176 in the world, has never been higher than No. 129 on that list, and whose claim to fame as a pro probably was being the first round leader at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
“The third round, I definitely didn’t have my best stuff,” Straka said. “I just hung in there and grinded out a good round. I hit the ball really nice today and really could take advantage.”
The victory ensures that Straka — who played his college golf at Georgia — will play the Masters in April. His wife took a flight in to be at the course on Sunday, just in case, and Straka hadn’t even seen her until he got to the practice green before teeing off.
They’ll have quite a bit to celebrate, after Straka matched the biggest come-from-behind win this season. Luke List was also down by five entering the final round at San Diego last month.
Berger needed a miracle at the end, and it didn’t happen. His second shot at the par-5 18th went into the water, and with that his hopes were officially gone.
Lowry also trailed by five shots entering the day; that deficit was gone after just five holes.
The undoing for Berger truly began Saturday when he went to the 18th tee with a six-shot lead, then made bogey. Still, the five-shot lead through 54 holes matched the biggest in Honda history and for a hometown guy the ingredients were in place for a memorable win.
Sunday had different ideas. He was paired with Lowry for the final round, and it didn’t take long for the leaderboard to considerably tighten.
Lowry made birdie on the first; the lead was down to four. Berger put a tee ball into the pine straw on the par-5 third, then had a ball buried in the sand of a greenside bunker and made double-bogey 7 to see the lead trimmed to two.
Lowry tapped in for birdie at the fourth. Lead down to one. Berger three-putted from 60 feet on the fifth for bogey. The lead was gone. And when Berger missed a 15-footer for par at the sixth, Lowry was suddenly up by one.
Straka was in the group five shots back to start the day, then made bogey on the opening hole. But slowly and steadily, he clawed back — a birdie on the par-4 ninth got him to 7 under, followed by another birdie on the 14th.
As if the finish needed more drama, it simply started pouring as the final groups were finishing. Kitayama and Straka were camped out on the 18th fairway, neither wanting to emerge from under their umbrellas to play their second shots into the par-5 finishing hole.
Both eventually did, each hitting to about 50 feet and setting up eagle putts. Straka two-putted, then waited to see if Lowry could get to 10 under.
He couldn’t. And Straka is on his way back to Georgia.