The PGA Tour took center stage this week, becoming among the first professional sports league to resume play after the coronavirus pandemic that has stalled the world since mid-March.
Famed Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas was the site of the PGA Tour’s grand return, and while no fans were permitted to watch in person at the Charles Schwab Challenge, a tournament with an illustrious history dating back to 1946, a large TV audience was treated to a thrilling final round that saw Daniel Berger shoot a 4-under 66 to outlast a stacked leaderboard and defeat young star Collin Morikawa in a shocking playoff.
The 27-year-old Berger has largely become a forgotten player in recent seasons, but it is, without doubt, safe to say: Berger is back.
Berger became a full-time PGA Tour member in 2015, and was an immediate success. Over his first three seasons, he won twice, finished runner-up four times, and played well enough to reach the Tour Championship in all three of those seasons. Unfortunately, a wrist injury saw his profile plummet during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, where he managed just two top 10s in 43 starts. He failed to even qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2019, and was miles outside of the conversation for last December’s Presidents Cup team.
However, 2020 has been a story of redemption for Berger, who had dropped all the way to 154th in the Official World Golf Rankings, after reaching a high of 18th in the 2017 season. He got off to a decent start, before something finally re-clicked with his game, where he recorded three consecutive top-10s, one more than he’d tallied in his previous 56 starts, before COVID-19 brought the season to a screeching halt. The three-month layoff could not have come at a worse time for him.
His hot play, though, apparently carried over for the then world’s 107th ranked golfer. Berger followed an opening round 5-under 65 with two rounds of 67 to reach 11-under going into Sunday’s finale, which left him in a tie for 7th place – just two strokes back of four-time Tour winner Xander Schauffele.
Berger stayed near the lead all day, playing his first eight holes in 3-under and making the turn at 2-under. While many on the leaderboard experienced roller coaster back-nines, Berger played the back bogey-free, and grabbed the tournament co-lead (with Schauffele and Morikawa), and solo-clubhouse lead, at 15-under by sinking a clutch 10-foot putt on the final hole of regulation.
Morikawa could have eliminated Berger in regulation, but was unable to convert a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 18, and so the two finished 72 holes deadlocked.
Schauffele, meanwhile, became unconscious with his putter briefly on the back nine, nailing lengthy putts on Nos. 14, 15, and 16, but as it often goes in this unforgiving game, his three-footer for par on No. 17 lipped out to drop him one stroke off the lead. He was then unable to finagle the birdie he needed on the 18th, and had to settle for a solo third-place finish.
The Berger-Morikawa playoff lasted just a single hole. Going back to No. 17, Berger carded a par, and with Morikawa standing over a three-foot par attempt of his own, a second playoff hole looked inevitable. However, just as Schauffele had done a short time ago, Morikawa’s gimme putt lipped out, ending the tournament with Berger as the champion.
It was the third victory of Berger’s career. Coincidentally, all three victories came during the second week of June, with the first two coming in back-to-back years at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
Finishing tied in third place with Schauffele, one shot behind Berger was Jason Kokrak, Bryson DeChambeau, who held the solo-lead Sunday for a considerable time, and Justin Rose.
Popular stars Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth began the final day just one stroke out of the lead, but both disappointed on Sunday, shooting matching 1-over 71s to finish in a tie for 10th.
Final Top-10 Finishers
Pos-Name-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Daniel Berger -15 (-4)
2. Collin Morikawa -15 (-3)
3. Xander Schauffele -14 (-1)
3. Jason Kokrak -14 (-6)
3. Justin Rose -14 (-4)
3. Bryson DeChambeau -14 (-4)
7. Bubba Watson -13 (-5)
7. Patrick Reed -13 (-3)
9. Gary Woodland -12 (E)
10. Sungjae Im -11 (-3)
10. J.T. Poston -11 (-2)
10. Jordan Spieth -11 (+1)
10. Justin Thomas -11 (+1)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: Bryson DeChambeau (340.3)
Fairways: Lucas Glover (45/56, 80.4%)
Greens: Xander Schauffele (58/72, 80.6%)
Putts/GIR: Patrick Reed (73/1.587)
Birdies: Justin Rose (23)
How Daniel Berger Won at Colonial
Avoiding mistakes and making clutch putts down the stretch made the difference in Berger’s victory. His 22 birdies tied for second in the field for the week, and his five bogeys tied for third.
Sunday was easily his best driving day as his 11 hit fairways was four more than he had during his Saturday 67. He finished fourth in the field in both greens in regulation and strokes gained: tee-to-green, in addition to finishing fifth in strokes gained: approach the green, leading to the field co-lead in strokes gained: total.
Berger’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 306 yards (23rd)
Fairways: 35/56, 62.5% (17th)
Greens: 56/72, 77.8% (4th)
Putts/Per GIR: 92/1.643 (8th)
Scores: 22 Birdies, 44 Pars, 5 Bogeys, 1 Double
Off the Tee: 0.281 (31st)
Approach the Green: 1.362 (5th)
Tee to Green: 1.895 (4th)
Putting: 1.292 (8th)
Total: 3.187 (T1)
What It Means For Berger
Three years removed from the two-year Tour exemption he received for his victory at the 2017 FedEx St. Jude Classic, Berger came into 2020 at risk of losing his Tour card if he had another season similar to 2019, where he finished 131st in the final FedExCup Standings.
Now, he has another two-plus year exemption. He jumped from 45th to 11th in the current FedExCup Standings, and will move all the way up to No. 31 in the world rankings.
Berger has now finished inside the top-10 in four consecutive starts, with the last three landing him in the top five. His previous record for most top-10s in a season was six, set three times.
Berger’s 2019-20 Season
Cuts Made: 9
Wins: 1 (Chas Schwab)
Additional Top 10s: 3
Earnings: $2,408,344 (11)
FedExCup Pts: 1,162 (13th)
World Rank Before/After: 107/31
Not All Lost For Morikawa
Missing out on what would have been his second career victory, Morikawa’s tournament ended in as heartbreaking of fashion as they come, but the 23-year-old should still be feeling tremendous about the current state of his game.
Last Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the completion of his first Tour event as a professional – a T14 result at the RBC Canadian Open. In that time, he has a victory, a runner-up, and six top-10s in just 23 starts.
Perhaps more impressively, he has made the cut in each of those 23 starts, leaving him just five short of the all-time record of made-cuts to begin a career, currently held by Tiger Woods.
Long-hitting Jason Kokrak, a surprise qualifier for last year’s 30-man Tour Championship, got his week off to a pedestrian start, but exploded on the weekend, following his Saturday 5-under 65 with a 6-under 64 to tie Brian Stuard (who finished T43) to jump from T16 to T3 on the final day, a round fueled strongly by his irons, as he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
Apparently, the 35-year-old Kokrak spent considerable time during the pandemic layoff working on his putting. He ranked 183rd in strokes gained: putting coming into the week, but finished 7th in the field in that same stat this week.
Joining Kokrak with a low round to jump into the top 10 was two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson, who birdied three of his final five holes to shoot a 5-under 65, which allowed him to jump from T16 to a final standing of T7.
Watson notched his third top-10 of the season, and seems to be rebounding well from a 2019 season that was considered a down year following his three-win 2018 season.
Sunday’s biggest riser was 21-year-old Joaquin Niemann, who used an eagle hole-out from 142 yards on the 17th hole to post a 5-under 65, and rocket 27 spots up the final leaderboard, into a share of 32nd place. The Chilean standout hopes the strong finish rights a season that saw him post T49 or worse in his final five starts ahead of the pandemic layoff, including missed cuts in his final three.
The only player who might have been more frustrated than Berger for the layoff to occur when it did was World No. 1, and reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, Rory McIlroy, who had impressively notched top-5 finishes in his last seven starts before the layoff.
Largely off the strength of a Friday 7-under 63, the four-time major champion was in contention after three rounds, sitting in a tie for ninth place, just three strokes back of Schauffele.
However, McIlroy’s Sunday start was a complete disaster, as four bogeys and a double on the front nine caused him to plummet out of contention. Even playing the back in 2-under, he still shot a 4-over 74 that dropped him 23 places, and into a tie for 32nd.
Mired in a slump of nearly three years now, Jordan Spieth came into Sunday with his best shot at a victory since the 2017 Open Championship, just a single stroke back of Schauffele. The three-time major champion seemingly fell from contention after bogeys on Nos. 5, 6, and 8, but he battled back to within two of lead after opening the back nine with birdies on Nos. 10, 12, and 13.
However, he sent his tee shot on the par-4 14th out of bounds, and had to sink a 33-foot putt just to save bogey. Spieth finished with a 1-over 71, which dropped him from T2 into a share of 10th place.
Also starting the day in second place, but falling out of the top 10 entirely was South Africa’s Branden Grace, who opened the event with three consecutive 4-under 66s, but hacked his way to a 3-over 73 on Sunday, in a round where he finished negatively in every strokes gained statistic.
“It’s just a range of emotions. I mean, I’ve grinded so hard the past two months to be in this position, and I’m just thankful that all the hard work paid off.”
– Daniel Berger