03/02/2014

Going into Sunday’s final round it seemed like Rory McIlroy was the obvious choice to win The Honda Classic. Rounds one through three made everyone think “Rory is back!“. With McIlroy lead by two going into Sunday, but the tournament was all but over. The infamous “The Bear Trap”  of PGA National loomed large, and with the pressure ratcheted up, it proved to be too much for much of the field.

Rory had his fair share of viable suitors, most notably Russell Henley and Russell Knox. Henley started the day two shots back and was looking for his 2nd PGA Tour win. On the other hand, Knox hung around three back, hoping for his first win on the PGA Tour. After mediocre first and second rounds, Tiger made his way into the conversation with a Saturday 65, flashing everyone back to 2012 when he made a charge at the title with a 62 on Sunday. Tiger finished two shots back of McIlroy that year, but would stage no such comeback this year. Woods’ essentially pulled himself out of contention after a rough start, but then literally pulled himself out of contention by withdrawing after hole 13. Tiger was 5 over at the time, and said a bad back was the reason for the WD.

While Tiger’s round ended at hole number 13, that is where things really started to spice up for the leaders. Rory was wavering at +2 for the round heading into 13, and Henley had made bogey on both 10 and 12 also putting him +2 for the day and still two back of McIlroy. Henley made a solid birdie on 13, and followed by a chip in bird on 14 to put him in a tie for the lead with Rory at -10 for the week. Russell Knox had seemingly shot himself out of contention with a double bogey on 14 to drop him down to -8 for the tournament, but would par his way in to finish there, and was about to receive a gift of a lifetime courtesy of the Bear Trap.

First Henley faltered, splashing one in the hazard on 15. That lead to a double bogey, and put Rory in the driver’s seat for the title. McIlroy’s demise was soon to follow, however, as he followed Henley by dumping one in the water on 16 from the fairway bunker. That also leading to a double bogey, putting both McIlroy and Henley at -8 heading into the 17th hole. At about this time, Ryan Palmer had a wedge in his hand in the 18th fairway, needing to make par to post -9 for the tournament – a number that would have looked very good to win the tourney. After nearly hitting one in the water himself, Palmer failed to get up and down for par, missing a four footer and a chance to post -9. Things didn’t get any easier for McIlroy after 16, as he and Henley faced the daunting par-3 17th. McIlroy made bogey from yet another bunker, and Henley made par. Suddenly Rory found himself in desperate need of a birdie on the par-5 18th just to match Knox, Palmer and Henley.

After bombing a drive, Rory hit the shot of the day – a high fading three wood that feathered just 12 feet away from the back right hole position guarded closely by water.

Just when it seemed guys were trying to lose the tournament, Rory hit a shot that everyone thought might steal the trophy for him. After a Henley par, the stage was set for McIlroy. Fifteen feet for eagle and the win, but his putt veered just off to the right. A four way tie at -8 meant more golf – a playoff down the 18th hole.

It was Henley that stole the show during the four way playoff, tapping in from two feet for birdie after the other three had failed to make 4s.

It was a quite the helter-skelter finish at PGA National on Sunday, but Russell Henley did just enough to survive the carnage caused by the Bear Trap on Sunday. By the end of the day, Henley had the second PGA Tour title of his career, all at the ripe age of 24.

Levi Smith