Three years ago, Daniel Berger made one of the classiest gestures in golf history.
Moments after Jordan Spieth made an improbable 61-foot bunker shot and put together one of the greatest celebrations in golf annals with caddie Michael Geller, Berger offered Spieth a “low five” as he prepared to peruse a 45-foot putt to extend the Travelers Championship playoff to a second hole at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Berger’s ensuing birdie bid slid just wide on the 18th green, enabling Spieth to become the only player in PGA Tour history to win on a bunker shot in a playoff.
So there was more than a bit of irony Sunday when Berger made a saving par on the first hole in his first playoff since the stunning loss to Spieth and won the Charles Schwab Challenge when rookie Collin Morikawa lipped out a 4-foot par putt after a brilliant 40-yard chip from the rough.
Morikawa failed to notch his second PGA Tour victory after making his 21st consecutive cut since turning pro a year ago, a streak that included a tie for 36th in the Travelers Championship where he was one of the four top-ranked amateurs in the world to receive a sponsors’ exemption.
While Spieth said he “felt the earth shake” from the volume of the crowd’s roar at TPC River Highlands, Berger’s third PGA Tour victory ended in virtual silence at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The Charles Schwab Challenge was the first of five tournaments to be played without spectators after the PGA Tour resumed play for the first time since March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only about 15 people were near the 17th green when Morikawa missed and Berger won.
“A little different for sure,” Berger said of the muted surroundings, “but in the end, I was holding the trophy, and that’s all that matters to me.”
Despite the best field in tournament history, including the top five players and eight of the top 10 in the world rankings, Berger’s victory wasn’t all that surprising. He emerged from a plethora of marquee contenders, including Spieth, U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, seventh-ranked Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele, after he tied for ninth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, T5 in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and T4 in the Honda Classic in his three starts before the Tour shut down.
Despite those strong finishes, the 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year said he worked harder than ever during a 90-day break that helped him remain hot and extend his consecutive rounds under par to a PGA-Tour leading 28.
Berger, 27, made an 11-foot putt on the final hole of regulation for his fifth birdie of the day, a closing 4-under-par 66 and a career-low 72-hole total of 15-under 265. Morikawa, who won the Barracuda Championship in only his fifth PGA Tour start last July 28, had a final-round 67 and also finished one ahead of Rose (66), DeChambeau (66), Schauffele (69) and Jason Kokrak (64).
Rose narrowly missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, DeChambeau bogeyed No. 17 and came up inches short on a 13-footer for birdie at the 18th and Schauffele had a 2-foot par putt horseshoe the cup at No. 17 before missing a 25-foot birdie try at the 18th.
Morikawa, 23, had a chance to avoid the playoff, but a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th curled left of the cup.
“I actually hit a really good putt, and granted, it was a really bad misread,” said Morikawa, who won $817,500. “I should have brought my caddie in. I hadn’t been bringing him in that much throughout the week, but it was one of those putts out here that it just was really into the grain, really right to left, and I just didn’t read that because I wasn’t reading it that much throughout the entire week, to be honest.
“Yeah, I’m going to have my head down after that because it was a putt pretty much to win it, but everything from there on was a good putt.”
As for the playoff lip-out, Morikawa simply said, “Not a good putt. … I had full control, so it’s going to be a little bittersweet. I know I’m going to have to look back at it before next week (at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C.) and see all the positives, but I’m also going to have to nit-pick what I did wrong. This one bites a little harder, but I’m just going to keep pedaling and look toward next week.”
DeChambeau, who had rallied into a share of the lead with five birdies in a nine-hole stretch, was mystified by the end of his round near where he went to school at nearby Southern Methodist University. He stood out in his first event back thanks to a 25-pound weight/muscle gain that had him routinely bombing drives more than 320 yards.
“Got hosed on 17, caught a jumper out of the first cut (of rough) and was not expecting that and flew it too far,” DeChambeau said. “Then a little chip shot, muffed it, just didn’t come out very good. Hit a good putt and barely missed it. (On No. 18) I thought I made the putt, and it just broke at the end, unfortunately. That was kind of my day.”
Rose, who rediscovered his game after injury problems, thought his birdie bid would get him into the playoff.
“It was a gentle right to left the whole way. I played about 6 to 8 inches of break, and that’s the way I normally read putts is more the maximum break and kind of a foot past the speed,” said Rose.
“I was aware it’s a must-make putt, and then sometimes you grapple with do you kind of take all the break out and get it there, but I don’t make putts that way. It’s not my routine, so a couple feet out, I thought I had made it to be honest with you.”
Kokrak missed an 8-footer for birdie at No. 18 to extend his day.
“A couple mental mistakes,” he said. “I looked up on 11, missed a short par putt there. But very happy. Made some long putts, made some great swings, hit it a lot better today, drove it better. Put myself in great position. Wouldn’t change a thing on my last putt; it just kind of dove a little bit more than I thought.”
Finally, Schauffele, the 54-hole leader, had the 25-footer to get into the playoff.
“I had a bunch of 10-footers and just didn’t make any of them,” Schauffele said. “Speed was off. Final putt on 18 left to right in the heart, kind of sums up my week.”