Fortune can be a fickle mistress. She shone brightly on Daniel Berger through the first three rounds of the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. So much so that Berger started Sunday’s final round with a five-stroke lead over Shane Lowry, with whom he was paired. Lowry didn’t need long for that to erode.
Lowry converted a birdie putt at the first hole on the ball’s last gasp revolution toward the cup. Berger then took double bogey at the third hole. At the fourth, Lowry’s perfectly struck approach shot from 260 yards landed just inches from the pin. His birdie there trimmed Berger’s lead to a stroke. When Berger bogeyed the fifth hole, fortune seemed to be squarely in Lowry’s corner.
The lead was Lowry’s alone with another Berger bogey at the sixth. That was extended to two strokes at 12 with another Berger miscue. All Lowry had to seemingly do from there was play evenly and the tournament hardware should be his. Which is how matters unfolded until fortune took a shine to Sepp Straka.
The Austrian, looking for his first PGA Tour win, birdied three of his last five holes to go up by a stroke as Lowry teed off at 18 in a driving rainstorm that had just materialized. Lowry was unable to birdie 18 and had to settle for second money.
The conclusion was a disappointing coda to an otherwise bravura performance by Lowry. He opened with 70 on Thursday and followed that with three rounds of 67. His Saturday score was the day’s low and only Straka (66) went lower on Sunday.
“That’s the game, unfortunately,” Lowry said. “I played good enough golf, I felt, to win the tournament. That bad weather came in just as we were hitting our tee shot on 18, which was as bad a break as I’ve got in a while. It’s a tough one to take. You know, I probably played some of the best golf of my whole career this week, I feel, around a very tough golf course.”
Lowry’s last win was the 2019 British Open and he’s aware that there are no easy paths to victory.
“It’s hard to win out here,” Lowry said. “It’s just hard. End of story. There is no point saying any different. You go out like I did today, I played the golf to win the tournament but didn’t win. So, just PGA Tour and the top level of world golf, the standard is very high at the minute.”
On a positive note, Lowry moved up to 46th on the FedEx Cup points list and to 35th on the Official World Golf Rankings scale.
Padraig Harrington returned to the scene of his last PGA Tour triumph (in which he beat none other than Berger in a playoff in 2015) and missed the cut by a stroke after rounds of 73 and 70. A double-bogey 6 to end Thursday’s round had a lot to do with that.
Lowry will be resting up this week for next week’s Players Championship but the quartet of Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Seamus Power will be on hand in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
If the final group in Sunday’s final round of the Jonsson Workwear Open in Durban, South Africa had a familiar look about it, that was because both Tom McKibbin and J.C. Ritchie comprised two of the final three to tee off in the previous week’s Cape Town Open. Only this time, the roles were reversed. McKibbin was the hunter and Ritchie the hunted, although McKibbin might as well have brought a pea shooter with him to try to take Ritchie down. The latter brought a 10-stroke lead into Sunday’s play.
South Africa’s Ritchie, who overcame McKibbin to win in Cape Town, kept his foot down on the pedal in Durban, opening with rounds of 61 and 63. He recorded two eagles in each of those rounds, including an ace on Thursday. A bogey-free 65 kept him well clear of pursuers on Saturday and he strolled home with 71 on Sunday, suffering his only two bogeys of the event.
McKibbin, the 19-year-old from Holywood Golf Club (which produced Rory McIlroy), put the previous week’s disappointment behind him and got down to business here, posting scores of 65, 68 and 66 to pose the nearest threat to Ritchie as Sunday dawned.
Three dropped shots over the first three holes on Sunday didn’t help McKibbin’s cause any. He recovered, though, to finish with even-par 72 and a share of seventh place, 11 strokes off Ritchie’s winning number. McKibbin now stands seventh in the Challenge Tour rankings.
McKibbin will remain in South Africa for this week’s Mangaung Open in Bloemfontein. Unfortunately, Ritchie will be there, too, although he is one victory away from automatic graduation to the DP World Tour.
John Murphy got a share of 18th place in Durban, firing rounds of 71, 67, 67 and 69 to finish 14 strokes in back of Ritchie.
Robin Dawson (71-68), Paul Dunne (73-66), Niall Kearney (72-67) and Gavin Moynihan (70-69) missed the cut by one stroke.