The Honda Classic Review
Sepp Straka secured his maiden PGA Tour victory after birdieing the 72nd and final hole of his tournament, as the Srixon sponsored player utilized his trusty ZX7 irons.
The Austrian started the final round five strokes behind third round leader Daniel Berger, who had a complete and uncharacteristic collapse during Sunday.
Thanks to Straka’s late rally, he has moved from 176th to 83rd in the Official World Golf Rankings and he has bolstered his FedEx Cup standing, moving from 105th to 14th in the seasonal Order of Merit.
Tightly Packed Leaderboard
The record-breaking week we witnessed at the Genesis Invitational was unlikely to repeat itself at PGA National, although Matt Jones did run away with the lead at last year’s event, thanks to a dazzling 61.
Kurt Kitayama, winless on the PGA Tour, set the early pace and carded 64 thanks to seven birdies and only one blemish, on the par-4 14th.
Daniel Berger was one back after a riveting 65 but he would have been disappointed with his finish, considering he was five-under through 11 holes and with seven to play – albeit three that form the harrowing Bear Trap – the American would have been targeting a stronger finish.
Rory Sabbatini and Chris Kirk also shared Berger’s standing, and the latter is responsible for the best shot of the first round: holing out from the fairway at 204 yards – to a back pin that released perfectly into the cup.
Straka produced his finest round of the weekend on Friday, posting 64 to help ease the struggles of his opening 71.
Five birdies were accumulated on the front nine amidst a bogey on the 7th, before two further birdies helped augment his overall standing.
Berger matched his opening 65 to move three strokes in the lead after Kirk had supported his promising start with another score in the sixties.
The third round helped to shape the tournament’s outcome, as Shane Lowry and Berger would share the final pairing for Sunday’s finale.
After opening with 70, the Irishman produced back-to-back rounds of 67 to move him to six-under for the week, whilst Berger remained in the sixties himself, albeit just creeping in with a one-under-par 69.
Lowry’s score of 67 was the best on the day, which is a stark contrast to the previous two where scores of 64 were recorded as the lowest.
Kitayama shot one-over, which disrupted his flow and potentially his chances of winning but after 54 holes, there seemed to be one clear favourite: Berger.
Although a late blemish on the 18th reduced his overnight lead from six to five, the American was a comfortable favourite and looking likely to record his fifth PGA Tour title.
Sun, Rain and Bogeys
PGA National is a notoriously difficult course; there are plenty of opportunities for scoring but several holes that are patiently awaiting any mistakes.
When a player holds a five-stroke lead with 18 to play, it will either take something extraordinary from the chasing pack or a complete collapse from the leader – the latter took place.
Berger endured a fantastic 2021, which was epitomised by his strong Ryder Cup display at Whistling Straits.
However, holding such a healthy lead with only 18 holes to go places a premium on your mindset: do you play aggressive and try to further the lead or defend what you have?
The American played the front nine at 38, which is three-over-par, and his struggles continued throughout the afternoon.
His putting had been reliable throughout the week, ranking 27th in SG: Putting through 54 holes but his Sunday performance with the flat stick ranked him 73rd, the worst in the field.
It wasn’t until the 17th hole that Berger sunk a putt longer than three-feet, saving par from seven-feet on the penultimate hole.
On the flipside, Lowry had a great final round and if a couple more putts dropped, then he would have won his first tournament since the 2019 Open Championship – almost three years ago.
Straka ironically opened with a bogey before securing back-to-back birdies on the 2nd and 3rd to instil much-needed confidence if he was to slash a deficit as dramatic as it was.
Birdies on 14 and 16 opened an opportunity and he narrowly left his eagle putt short on the 18th that would have enabled him to enjoy Lowry’s final hole much more confidently.
The typical Floridian climate was present through the majority of the final round, although the heavens started to deviate after the final pair were through 15.
A slight drizzle to begin with, when Lowry and Berger made their way to the 18th tee, a complete downpour had begun.
This drastically impacted Lory’s strategy for the hole, meaning he could not take his preferred line off the tee and thus, making his approach shot much more difficult.
Subsequently, he missed his birdie putt and lost by a single stroke, as the Irishman’s multi-year absence from the winning circle continues.
The PGA Tour remain in Florida for the alluring Arnold Palmer Invitational, where the field will be restricted to just 120 players.
You can read our preview for the tournament here.