Comeback Kid Daniel Berger Crowns PGA Tour Return With Emotional Victory

By: | Mon 15 Jun 2020 | Comments


HOW apt that, after 91 days, the return of the PGA Tour saw a thrilling finish to the Charles Schwab Challenge with Daniel Berger claiming the title in a playoff with Collin Morikawa. And so he goes into the history books as the man who won the first tournament back.

It was an emotional victory for 27-year-old Berger, a young man who began his career in such promising fashion before being struck down by injury and losing his card. He is a former Presidents Cup player who tumbled down the world rankings. He suffered a wrist injury that at one point threatened to end his career for good.

Morikawa and Berger finished 72 holes tied on 15 under and headed back to the 17th tee to settle affairs. It is a tree-lined 379-yard par four that calls for an iron from the tee and Morikawa handed the advantage to Berger by missing the fairway to the right. Berger, a two-time winner, made no such mistake.

Berger’s approach finished in the rough behind the green. Morikawa had a decent lie but he was unable to find the green. However, he pitched to four feet to put the pressure back on Berger. But he was up to the task and saved his par. Morikawa lipped out and Berger was the champion.

“I feel a range of emotions. I have worked so hard these past few months to put myself in this potion,” Berger said as he fought back tears. “When I came back I came back stronger and I wanted it more than I ever have before."

There will be more chances for Morikawa, and plenty of them. Make no mistake - this guy is the real deal.

It wasn’t the leaderboard we expected but it featured many of the young men who are going to dominate the game - Xander Schauffele, Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau for starters. And how good it was to see Berger back in contention. He enjoyed three top-10 finishes before golf locked down and will be thrilled that he has maintained that form - and then some! England’s Justin Rose had started the season slowly but he also bounced back at Colonial, missing out on winning only because of a poor back nine on Saturday.

Jordan Spieth hasn’t won since the 2017 Open Championship. He began the day with high hopes but is still looking for the magic formula. He played some wonderful golf and holed some outrageous putts. He also missed some tiddlers, struck some wayward drives and failed to get the ball close enough to the hole with the wedge in his hands.

DeChambeau shot a final round of 66 for a 14-under-par finishing total, his chances ended after a dreadful approach to the 17th hole. DeChambeau has put on 42lb in little more than six months. The man who calls himself The Scientist now looks more like The Pie Man, but he has added an astonishing amount of distance off the tee.

“I am pretty excited about how I am playing,” said DeChambeau. “But I just didn’t have my putting stroke with me this week. If I had been able to hole some putts I would have won this thing by a mile. I hadn’t even played 18 holes before this tournament so I am super excited about what lies ahead for me."

Morikawa is a machine. This was his 21st successive cut since turning professional, and he is in stellar company. Only Tiger Woods, who began his career with 25 cuts, is ahead of him. He had already tasted victory but not in this sort of company. He barely misses a fairway and has a stunning golf swing with few moving parts. In other words, very little can go wrong. If he has a weakness, it is on the greens, but the 23-year-old American holed more than his fair share as he moved to the top of the leaderboard.

Schauffele was the 54-hole leader and was reminded that he had yet to convert a three-round lead into a victory. Was this going to be the day when he put that to bed?

Rose came to the final hole on 14 under, tied with DeChambeau and Jason Kokrak, who shot a 64. Behind him, Schauffele was holing a 15-foot par putt to remain tied for the lead with Morikawa on 15 under. Could Rose join them? He left himself with a 25-footer on the final green but missed it by an inch to sign for a 66. But at least he now knows that he is once again heading in the right direction.

“That putt on the 18th looked good,” Rose said. “I thought I had made it. I gave myself lots of chances but I played well. I have been working really hard for three months and feel happy and comfortable with my game. It’s certainly a whole heap better than it was back in March."

Schauffele’s chances appeared to have disappeared when his approach from the sand at the 15th found water. He then duffed his fourth but holed a monstrous putt for a bogey.

Morikawa bunkered his second shot at the 17th but saved his par in magnificent fashion and walked to the final tee on 15 under par, leading by one.

Berger came to last on 14 under. Could he make a birdie? His approach finished 15 feet from the hole and when he drained it he was tied for the lead with Morikawa. “This has been a long break but I have worked really hard and am thrilled to still be playing so well,” Berger said.

Morikawa hit a wild drive at the 18th but it caught a tree branch and, incredibly, found the fairway. Behind him, Schauffele was holing another outrageous putt for a birdie at the 16th to make it a three-way tie for the lead on 15 under. And still the drama wasn’t over. Morikawa struck a glorious wedge to the final green. With Berger looking on, Morikawa missed his birdie effort and finished on 15 under with a closing round of 67.

Now, only Schauffele could beat them but his tiny putt for par at the 17th lipped out and so he came to the 18th needing a birdie to join Berger and Morikawa in a playoff and the odds were stacked against him when he found the right rough from the tee. He was only 135 yards from the hole, found a decent lie and hit the green, 30 feet from the hole. He knew that he needed to hole it but left the ball three inches short and his tournament was over.

“I missed a ton of putts today,” he said. “It was a kind of hectic finish to my round and that horseshoe putt kind of summed up my round. But I am good with my game and have no reason to change anything. I am upset right now. I had an internal battle out there without any fans."

The PGA Tour made much of having the top five in the world in attendance, but Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson missed the cut, and Brooks Koepka never featured. At the start of the final round Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas were there or thereabouts, but McIlroy had a day to forget, shooting a 74, and Thomas never really challenged.

In truth, Colonial is not a course that suits McIlroy’s game and eventually it told on him.


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