The Honda Classic was good until the last drop. The last raindrop. The last dropped putt. And the last dropped shot.
All of the above, actually.
After 71 holes of brilliant, Chamber of Commerce weather, The Honda Classic concluded in a bizarre deluge of rain with Sepp Straka providing the thunder. Straka became the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour, overcoming a five-shot deficit to win the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort.
Straka birdied three of the last five holes, leaving his 46-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole inches short after reaching the par-5 18th in two during the driving rainstorm. He tapped in for a final-round 4-under 66 on the Champion Course to beat 2019 British Open champion Shane Lowry, by a shot at 10-under 270.
“I was very lucky I got to hit my drive before the rain came,” Straka said of his 334-yard drive at No. 18 that was the longest on the par-5 finishing hole Sunday.
Straka and Kurt Kitayama, playing in the penultimate group, both hit their drives on No. 18 just before the skies opened up. Straka was tied for the lead with Lowry at nine-under.
It was pouring by the time Straka and Kitayama reached their tee shots. Kitayama, who was tied for third at 8-under with Daniel Berger, was in no hurry to hit his second shot until a PGA Tour rules official told him he had to play because there was no lightning.
Straka went next, hitting a 6-from from 199 yards on the green, well left of the hole. “The second shot was harder than the tee shot,” he said.
Straka’s eagle attempt stopped inches short of the hole, enabling him to take the lead at 10-under. The drama wasn’t over.
Berger’s tee shot in the rain barely went 270 yards. Lowry’s was even worse, a low hook that went about 250 into the rough that forced him to lay up.
Trailing by two after starting the day with a five-shot lead, Berger had no choice but to go for the green in two, and his approach landed just right of the green into the water. The bogey dropped him to fourth place.
Lowry’s third shot wasn’t close, nor was his birdie try, enabling the 28-year-old Straka to win his first PGA Tour event in his 95th start and earn the former George Bulldog his first trip to the Masters. “It’s a lifelong dream of mine just to be heading to Augusta,” said Straka, whose family moved from Austria to the U.S. when he was 14. “It’s still surreal. I’m sure it will sink in at some time. It’s just crazy what this all means.”
“I knew I could win because there was only one guy ahead of me (to start the final round). Strange things happen out here.” Lowry lamented his bad luck with the finish. The Irishman was the only player to go bogey-free in the final round, and he set a record for fewest over par holes (four) since the Honda Classic moved to the Champion course in 2007.
Despite closing with a 67, the runner-up finish meant he’s now 0-fo4-62 since winning the 2019 British Open at Royal Portrush. “Yeah, it’s hard to take, to be honest,” Lowry said. “Feel like I got the tournament stolen from me. The last hole … that’s as bad a break as I’ve ever got. “I felt I played good enough golf to win the tournament. Probably played some of my best golf of my whole career this week, I feel, around a very tough golf course.”
Berger could only blame himself. He started the day tied for the largest 54-hole lead in the tournament’s 49-year history. But that five-shot cushion was gone by the sixth hole, no thanks to a double bogey on the par-5 third hole. After opening with rounds of 65-65-69, Berger lost his touch on the crispy greens, preventing the Jupiter resident from winning his hometown PGA Tour event. His only two birdies during a 74 came from chip-ins as he became the first player since Dustin Johnson in 2017 not to win a PGA Tour event with at least a five-shot lead entering the final round.
“I didn’t play well, so I didn’t win the golf tournament,” said Berger, who’s 1-of-4 in converting 54-hole leads. “I just didn’t hit the shots that I needed to hit at the right time. “Just a poor round. It can happen at any time. I’m not going to dwell on it too much. I don’t think I made a single putt.”
Straka made a critical 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe at No. 16 to move into a first-place tie with Lowry. That set the stage for the late drama – and weather.
“When I got to the ninth tee, my caddie (John Davenport) said, ‘I need your best ten holes of the week,’” Straka said. “I had no idea where I stood. I knew so many things could happen on the back nine. Most of it was out of my control, so I tried to keep my head down and hit good shots.”
And he did just that, with an assist from Mother Nature.