Lucas Herbert, four strokes behind Taylor Pendrith after 54 holes of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, figured that foul weather on Sunday at Port Royal Golf Club might give him a fair chance at his first PGA Tour title.
Even though he missed the cut in his only two previous starts to the season.
Even though he had been struggling with his swing and needed a fix-me-up from his longtime coach, Dom Azzopardi, to correct a takeaway problem that resulted in “leaks” and “double-crosses," which he said, “is not a really good way to play golf.”
Um, leaks and double-crosses do not sound like good ways to do anything.
You either have to be supremely confident or slightly masochistic to want to take a recently retooled swing into the kind of weather that greeted players in Bermuda. The conditions prompted the tour to schedule an early start off two tees, but sideways rain still forced one brief suspension of play and winds gusting to 30 mph gave the tour’s second shortest course (just 6,828 yards, par 71) an added layer of sensory stimulation during a final round in which 12 of the top 16 players on the leader board had yet to win on the PGA Tour.
For Herbert, 25, we’ll go with Door No. 1. He’s a confident dude, exhibiting the kind of swagger that rises up commensurate to the pressure. His final-round two-under 69 was good enough for a one-stroke victory over Danny Lee and Patrick Reed, and while this was his breakthrough win on the PGA Tour, it was his third in the last two years after European Tour victories in the Dubai Desert Classic and Irish Open.
“I felt like I grinded really well early and I had the right attitude going into the day that it wasn't going to be easy,” said the native of Bendigo, Australia, who is the fourth straight tour winner of international heritage. “Obviously on the range it was … I don't think we even hit drivers on the range because [you] just couldn't hit it, it was just pointless, so you just knew it was going to be one of those days where you had to battle really, really hard.”
And so Herbert did in posting 15-under 269 to earn $1.17 million, a berth in the Masters, the Players and PGA Championship, and a spot in the top 50 in the world, moving to a career-best 43rd.
A three-hole stretch starting at the par-4 12th proved pivotal in the outcome.
Leading by a stroke over Pendrith, Lee played quickly and sloppily on the way to a double bogey while Herbert drilled home a 20-footer for birdie to leapfrog into the lead at 15 under. Herbert bogeyed the par-3 13th—“and I don't think I hit a bad shot," he said—but he bounced back by catching an edge on a 35-footer at the 14th to restore his lead. Lee, meanwhile followed with bogeys at 13 and 14, a costly stretch for the veteran playing on a minor medical extension. He managed to respond by rattling off three straight birdies, but had to settle for a share of second place with Reed at 14-under 270, when a solo second would have sewn up his card.
“A lot of good and a lot of bad. I fought really hard for it, just 12 through 14 was a very, very tough stretch for me,” Lee said. “After that I just bite my tongue, and I just try to grind it out. There’s so many times when that time comes or whenever that disappointment happened, I just kind of half-assed it all the way in, so this time I didn't want to do that. I gave 120 percent all the way in.”
Patrick Reed charged on Sunday with a 65.
Reed, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 24, birdied his final two holes for a 65 after starting the day nine shots off the lead. Only Scott Stallings, who somehow found 10 birdies in the wind and rain for an insane 62, scored lower on the blustery day. Stallings tied for fifth with Pendrith, who somehow found no birdies in a 76 after tying the 54-hole tournament record of 196.
While on the subject of medical extensions, we pause to update the status of Jim Knous, who was playing in his final event on his extension and had to finish at least solo 67th for conditional status. Ranked 695 in the world, Knous, 31, made a gut-check eagle on his penultimate hole on Friday to make the cut, and on Sunday gave his gut another check. After playing his opening nine holes in four over, Knous rallied for an inward 33 amid the breezy conditions to shoot a one-over 72 and ended up T-57 with a 283 total.
“The emotions were going crazy today,” Knous said. “Yeah, greatest top-60 of all time. [But] job's not done. Obviously conditional status, the ones I get in I have to be ready, and I plan to be ready and go low and have chances.”
After missing the cut at the Fortinet Championship and the Sanderson Farms Championship, Herbert wasn’t quite sure what kind of game he was bringing to the British island territory, close to where, legend has it, ships and planes mysteriously disappear. So do 54-hole leads, by the way; no Saturday leader has become a Sunday champion in the tournament's three years.
With two early bogeys to his opening round on Thursday, Herbert already was thinking about just how soon he might disappear from the British island territory. “I think,” Herbert recalled, “I was sitting under a little palm tree on the side of the 12th green at two over through three thinking, I'll tell you what, if this wind doesn't die down or this weather improves, then we might be packing the bags early because this is tough.
“Yeah, it turned around pretty quick, but golf's one of those sports,” he continued. “There's endless of stories of guys that have started off with three straight bogeys, that have been four over through nine and then come back to win. So I tried not to get too caught up in that early and just make sure that I just keep fighting. Maybe 30th place is a good result, maybe just making the cut's a good result. I tried to really focus on that, and it just got better and better as the week went on.”
Herbert earned his card by finishing fourth in the Albertsons Boise Open, the opening event of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, which ensured his participation on the tour—if he could just get into the field. Fortunately, Bermuda had some openings. Even surplus spots. The Aussie native once again showed his knack for timing. And game management.
He didn’t realize that his victory, in just his 20th tour start, got him into the Masters. Needless to say, the man with wins on three different continents in the last two years has a lot to look forward to on the U.S. mainland.
“Definitely gets me into the Masters? OK. I mean, the next 12 months are going to be really cool,” he said. “I've never played Augusta, so being able to play the Masters is going to be pretty cool. Getting to play … in a few of these events that I've watched growing up on TV, it's just going to be a cool experience. No matter how I play, it's just going to be phenomenal to play in those tournaments. It's going to be lots of fun.”
He probably won’t even mind if the wind blows at a few of them.
“Wind brings out the best players,” Herbert claimed, and he could point to himself as the latest example.