The PGA Tour returned with ferocity.
After a three-month pause induced by the coronavirus pandemic, competitive golf restarted this week at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.
And Sunday’s final round was a wild ride filled with lead changes, big shots, heartache and an eventual unexpected winner in Daniel Berger, who beat Collin Morikawa in a one-hole playoff.
After both golfers finished the fourth round at 15-under, they played the 17th hole as a playoff. Berger tapped in for par and Morikawa’s putt to tie it from just outside 3 feet lipped out.
In a field that was loaded with several major winners and each of the top five players on Tour, the world 107th-ranked Berger emerged as the long-shot victor. It’s his third career PGA triumph, and his first in three years after he struggled in 2018 and 2019 due to a serious wrist injury that sidelined him for several months.
“It’s a range of emotions,” he told CBS after the win. “I’ve grinded so hard the last two months to be in this position and I’m just so thankful that all the hard work paid off.”
This one is surely his most memorable win because of the unusual circumstances. It was the PGA’s first tournament back but no fans were allowed, which meant the usual roars and groans of a crowd were replaced with tense silence down the stretch.
There normally would have been a huge cheer for Berger’s 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th Sunday that gave him the co-lead. And fans would have gasped when Morikawa’s seemingly easy putt missed on the playoff hole.
No more than an hour earlier, Xander Schauffele missed an even shorter par putt on the very same hole. It was a brutal mistake that wound up costing him a chance at the tournament. Schauffele was among four players who finished one stroke back of the leaders.
Unbelievable.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 14, 2020
Co-leader Xander Schauffele's ball lips out on the 17th hole.
He makes bogey to fall 1 back with 1 to play.
Golf is heartbreaking. pic.twitter.com/1X90JNiQpk
The leaderboard was packed at the top all week long, and for a while it included some of the game’s biggest stars. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth both entered Sunday in contention. Former PGA champion Justin Thomas was in the mix most of the day until stumbling on the back 9.
It was anyone’s game in a roller coaster final round.
Schauffele started the day as the outright leader and he looked in control until mistakes cost him with bogeys on the 15th and 17th holes.
A noticeably bulked-up Bryson DeChambeau said he put on 20 pounds of muscle during the break and added even more power off the tee. He nearly bombed his way to victory but his late charge came up one shot short.
Harold Varner III was the story of the first two rounds but he faded out of contention on Sunday.
Overall, it was refreshing to be able to see live golf that truly mattered. With such a loaded field it had the gravity of a major, just without the fanfare.
A few creative fans who peeked over the fence and one homeowner who built a grandstand in their backyard adjacent to the 16th tee provided some distant sounds of applause and cheers, but for then most part it was eerily quiet.
The lack of a gallery wasn’t all bad though. Without crowd noise, TV viewers got to hear some behind-the-scenes discussions between player and caddy while lining up shots. Some players even agreed to wear microphones so we could hear everything, even the naughty words. Oops.
There are going to be a few quirks in the coming weeks as the sport continues absent fans and post-round handshakes. But it’s still golf. It’s live sports. And that’s a win for everybody.
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