It was a weaker field than usual at the Honda Classic, one of the most difficult non-major events of the PGA Tour season, but the fans in south Florida were nearly treated to a ridiculously intriguing playoff between two of the biggest names in the sport: reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Brooks Koepka – a man who is also the reigning champ of the U.S. Open AND the PGA Championship, and the absurdly popular Rickie Fowler, a recent Tour winner who ranks 9th in the world rankings.
Unfortunately for the fans, and TV networks, David smashed the two Goliaths and ended the playoff dream on the 18th green.
This time, David was little-known Keith Mitchell, a 27-year-old Chattanooga, Tennessee native who came into the week ranked 162nd in the world. Despite three missed cuts and a 73rd place finish in his past four starts, Mitchell was able to find his best stuff at the notoriously tough PGA National Champions Course, shooting a 3-under 67 to claim his first PGA Tour victory.
Even if his victory was not the most anticipated outcome when a plethora of great contenders were in position down the stretch, it was undeniably an impressive win for Mitchell. He had to re-compose himself after carding bogeys on his first two Sunday holes, and even more impressively, Mitchell, one of the worst putters on Tour, sunk a clutch 15-footer with enormous pressure on 18 to seal the deal.
At 9-under par for the week, Mitchell clipped Koepka and Fowler by one stroke, and former major winner Lucas Glover and a scorching-hot Ryan Palmer by two. Also in the mix, until late, was 56-year-old PGA Tour Hall of Famer Vijay Singh, who played in the final pairing and was looking to become the oldest winner in Tour history.
Final Top 10
Pos-Player-Score (Rd 4)
1. Keith Mitchell -9 (-3)
2. Brooks Koepka -8 (-4)
2. Rickie Fowler -8 (-3)
4. Ryan Palmer -7 (-7)
4. Lucas Glover -7 (-4)
6. Vijay Singh -6 (E)
7. Kyoung-Hoon Lee -5 (+1)
7. Wyndham Clark -5 (+2)
9. Jim Furyk -4 (-3)
9. Jason Kokrak -4 (-2)
9. Sergio Garcia -4 (-1)
16. Billy Horschel -2
20. Ernie Els -1
30. Justin Thomas E
36. Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland +1
51. Sungjae Im +2
59. Joaquin Niemann, Zach Johnson +3
How Keith Mitchell Won the Honda Classic
Despite the final Sunday pairing of Wyndham Clark and Vijay Singh not teeing off until 1:25 pm (local time), the important action started much earlier than usual on Sunday. That was because Ryan Palmer, who started the final round tied for 39th-place, exploded out of the gate at 10:20 am, carding birdies on his first four holes and making the turn at 6-under for the day, suddenly becoming a legitimate contender.
Swirling winds made the conditions difficult for seemingly everyone other than Palmer, and after two late birdies, he suddenly held the lead. That put pressure on those who started near the lead to keep on their games, and early on, Mitchell appeared not able to.
Starting the final day in a tie for second, Mitchell bogeyed Nos. 1 and 2 to give two frustrating strokes back to the field at a course where the scores are never especially low.
However, Mitchell stopped the bleeding with a tremendous third-shot pitch on the par-5 3rd hole that led to a birdie, and from there, he was seemingly reinvigorated. Mitchell parred the next five holes and added his second birdie of the day on the ninth, giving himself a chance at the turn.
That’s when Mitchell played the nine of his life. Birdies on Nos. 12, 13, and 15 got him to 8-under par with three holes to go. Despite never having been in the position before, Mitchell continued to shake off the big-name contenders with pars on 16 and 17.
On the par-5 18th, he sent his drive into a fairway bunker, but was able to limit the damage with a nice lay up, setting up a phenomenal approach shot that got him to 15 feet of the hole for a birdie attempt. He calmly sunk the putt, eliminating the much higher-regarded Koepka and Fowler, who had both birdied 18 themselves shortly earlier, and fist pumped exuberantly.
For the week, Mitchell led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green and strokes gained: total.
Driving: 305.7 yards (11th)
Fairways: 33/56, 58.9 (54th)
Greens: 45/72, 62.2% (22nd)
Putting: 1.711 (19th)
Scoring: 16 Birdies, 49 Pars, 7 Bogeys (-9)
What It Means For Mitchell
As it is for all first-time winners on the PGA Tour, the win was life-changing for Mitchell. He was coming off a solid rookie 2018 season on Tour, making 21 of 29 cuts and posting four top 10s, but his start to the 2019 season was inconsistent, and with atrocious recent form, few saw this kind of performance coming this week.
He is now Tour-exempt for the next two-plus seasons and will make his first Masters appearance next month.
Mitchell also rose precipitously up the Official World Golf Rankings with the win, jumping from 162nd to 68th, the first time he has been inside the world’s top 100. He is now 17th in the FedExCup standings, and will be participating in a number of elite events that he likely would not have otherwise. This is truly his breakout.
WHAT MITCHELL WON
FedExCup Points: 500
OWGR Points: 48
Exemption: 2-year PGA Tour thru 2021 season
MITCHELL’S 2018-19 SEASON
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 1 (The Honda Classic)
Top 10s: 0
Money: $1,587,942 (17th)
Points: 650 (17th)
World Rank Start/Now: 162/68
Palmer had, by far, the best round in the field on Sunday, but he was not the only one to find success in the wind. Like Mitchell, Koepka came to PGA National in poor form, but as he often has on the biggest stages, the man who has won three of the past seven majors effortlessly hit one clutch shot after another down the stretch.
Largely off the strength of a tremendous iron game (he hit 14 of 18 Sunday greens), Koepka shot a 4-under 66, which tied for the second-best score of the day.
Tying Koepka on the final day was Lucas Glover, who bounced back impressively from a poor third round 72. Glover finished in a tie for fourth, keeping up a phenomenal recent run of five finishes inside the top 12 in his last six starts.
Glover has been a punchline for poor putting in recent years, but has played much better on the greens this year, and finished 14th in the Honda Classic field in strokes gained: putting.
Suddenly, Glover has the Tour’s fifth best scoring average.
With all the attention that Vijay Singh, deservedly, was getting, another old-timer snuck in under-the-radar to play even better in the final round: 48-year-old Jim Furyk overcame a double-bogey on the 11th hole to shoot a 3-under 67.
The excellent round propelled Furyk 20 spots up the Sunday leaderboard, as he finished T9 to post his second top-10 of the season.
Furyk led the field for the week in driving accuracy.
Wyndham Clark, the 54-hole leader, started off tremendously, as he birdied two of his first four holes to extend his early lead. Unfortunately for Clark, the wheels eventually fell off and from there he bogeyed five holes and finished with a 2-over 72 to drop into a tie for 7th place.
After putting out of his mind the first three days, Clark came back to earth with his flatstick, but he should still be happy with his effort for the week, as he posted the second top-10 of his young career.
His other top 10 was in his previous start, so he appears to be bringing some good momentum into this next stretch of the season.
Matching Clark’s 2-over 72 was first-round leader Jhonattan Vegas. An untimely double-bogey 7 on his final hole prevented what would have been the second top-10 of his season, as he dropped from 6th into a tie for 16th.
Vegas was abysmal with his irons on the weekend, hitting fewer than 50% his greens over the tournament’s second half.
Gary Woodland has been phenomenal in 2019, and he came into the week as the field’s highest-ranked player in the FedExCup Standings (3rd). He bounced back from a mediocre first two rounds with a Saturday 66, but despite four birdies on Sunday, including three in a row from holes 13-15, he posted a 4-over 74, his worst round of the week.
The Kansas native dropped 17 spots down the Sunday leaderboard, into a tie for 36th, just third time in 10 starts this season where he did not finish inside the top 17.
You have a lot coming up, a lot to ingest, I’m sure, but just a few thoughts on your first PGA Tour win.
KEITH MITCHELL: It was awesome. I wish I could come up with a better word than that. But just having a chance to play — coming down the stretch against Rickie Fowler and Brooks, those guys are the best in the world, and they’ve been out here proving themselves.
I’m just pleased that I could prove myself against guys like that in such a great field and a great tournament, the Honda Classic.
How long did it take you to think about the event (The Masters) you’ll be adding in April?
KEITH MITCHELL: A while. But it’s — I’ve been to that tournament so many times being in Georgia and played the golf course a couple times, and it’s — I mean, to be honest, the first thing I thought about was having a job for the next two and a half years on the PGA Tour.
And the second thing was when I saw my mom, gave her a hug, and then everything else just kind of started sinking in.
I’m very lucky. One of my best friends in the world is from Augusta, helps me with my career, and his brother has always told me that I could have his house when I won to play in the Masters this year to stay in, so that was one of the first things Lee over here said: We’ve got you a house already.
Final Scores, Points, and Money
The Honda Classic | PGA National (Champions) | Palm Gardens, FL | Mar 3, 2019