PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Sepp Straka is going back to Georgia in a few weeks. He’s headed to the Masters, after pulling off a huge comeback to win the Honda Classic.
Straka, down by 5 shots entering the final round, tapped in for birdie in the rain on the final hole and ended up beating Shane Lowry by 1 shot to become the first Austrian winner in PGA Tour history. He shot a 4-under 66 on Sunday to finish at 10 under and earn $1.44 million.
“The words aren’t really coming to me right now,” Straka said. “It’s just crazy. I really don’t know what to think.”
He sure knew how to play.
A first-round 71 was followed by a 64 on Friday, 69 on Saturday and then a 66 on Sunday. He was 4 under in his final 10 holes, 3 under over the final five, finishing with a flourish while most others sputtered.
“It’s hard to win out here,” Lowry said. “It’s just hard. End of story. There is no point saying any different.”
Lowry shot his third consecutive round of 67, finishing the week 9 under. First-round leader Kurt Kitayama (68) was alone in third at 8 under, and Daniel Berger — who led by 6 shots with 19 holes left in the tournament — simply fell apart Sunday, his round of 74 leaving him 7 under for the week and 3 shots behind Straka.
“Just a poor round,” Berger said. “It can happen at any time. I’m not going to dwell on it too much. Just didn’t hit quality shots at the right time. Probably would’ve had a chance to win if I made a few more putts. I don’t think I made a single putt today.”
He didn’t. Berger made two birdies Sunday — both chip-ins, one from the sand, one from a grassy slope.
Lowry needed to make a 45-footer for birdie on the final hole to force a playoff. It missed, and with that, the Honda had a new champion — one who came into the week ranked No. 176 in the world, has never been higher than No. 129 on that list, and whose claim to fame as a pro probably was being the first-round leader at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
He’s a PGA Tour winner now.
“I hit the ball really nice today,” Straka said.
The victory ensures that Straka — who played his college golf at Georgia — will play the Masters in April. His wife took a flight in to be at the course on Sunday, just in case, and Straka hadn’t even seen her until he got to the practice green before teeing off.
They’ll have quite a bit to celebrate, after Straka matched the biggest come-from-behind win this season. Luke List was also down by 5 entering the final round at San Diego last month.
“I still can’t believe it,” Straka said.
The undoing for Berger began Saturday when he went to the 18th tee with a 6-shot lead, then made bogey. Still, the 5-shot lead through 54 holes matched the biggest in Honda history, and for a hometown guy — his home is 15 minutes from PGA National — the ingredients were there for a memorable win.
Sunday was a different story. Berger was paired with Lowry for the final round, and it didn’t take long for everything to change.
Lowry made birdie on the first; the lead was down to 4. Berger put a tee ball into the pine straw on the par-5 third, then had a ball buried in the sand of a greenside bunker and made double-bogey 7 to see the lead trimmed to 2.
Lowry tapped in for birdie at the fourth. Lead down to 1. Berger bogeyed the fifth. The lead was gone. And when Berger missed a 15-footer for par at the sixth, Lowry was suddenly up by 1.
“Didn’t play well, so I didn’t win the golf tournament,” Berger said.
Straka was in the group 5 shots back to start Sunday, then made bogey on the opening hole. But slowly and steadily, he clawed back — a birdie on the par-4 ninth got him to 7 under, followed by another birdie on the 14th.
A 20-footer on the 16th pulled him into a tie. That’s when weather decided to show up, too.
As if the finish needed more drama, it started pouring as the final groups were finishing. Kitayama and Straka were camped out on the 18th fairway, neither wanting to emerge from under their umbrellas to play their second shots into the par-5 finishing hole.
Both eventually did, each hitting to about 50 feet and setting up eagle putts. Straka two-putted, then waited to see if Lowry — who rushed into a poor tee shot during the downpour on 18 — could get to 10 under.
He couldn’t. And Straka is on his way back to Georgia.
“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,” Lowry said. “Yeah, it’s a tough one to take.”