PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Mackenzie Hughes came into this week’s Honda Classic riding a wave of momentum—he had missed the cut in each of his last five starts.
After an up-and-down first two days, the 29-year-old Canadian was headed toward another weekend off, until he stuck his approach to two feet on the par-4 eighth hole on Friday—his 17th of the day—to set up an easy birdie to make the cut on the number.
It turned out he was just getting started.
On Saturday, Hughes shot four-under 66, which given the challenging conditions at PGA National vaulted him from T-59 to T-8. On Sunday, he kept it going, making three birdies in his first 11 holes. Then he holed a bunker shot on the par-4 13th for another birdie to tie for the lead.
But after a vicious lipout that resulted in a bogey on the 16th and a push-fanned tee shot on the par-3 17th that left him 53 feet from the hole, a chance for a second career victory appeared to have slipped away.
Except Hughes made the putt, fist pumping as the ball fell into the cup, to again tie for the lead with playing partner Sungjae Im.
“I said to my caddie, ‘Let's just try and make Sungjae's putt a little harder,’” he said. “That's a huge bonus that that ball would drop in. I haven’t been that excited on the golf course in a long time.”
Unfortunately for the 2016 RSM Classic champion, it wouldn’t last.
Moment later, Im made his eight-footer for birdie to jump back to a one-shot lead going to the par-5 18th.
Hughes found the fairway off the tee but badly hooked his second shot into the grandstands. After getting a free drop 70 yards from the flag, he pitched to just 25 feet and ran his birdie attempt by. Im, who had laid up with his second shot after driving into a bunker, again found the sand with his third but got up-and-down to save par and secure a one-shot victory.
“It's been a really tough season so far for me,” said Hughes, who prior to this week had just one finish in the top 50 in his last 15 starts dating back to the middle of last summer. “I knew I was never really that far off, but it's all results, and the results weren't good so far this year. I always believed I could do it, but until you do it and get yourself back in there, there was always that bit of doubt."