04 March 2019: As Keith Mitchell inched ever closer to victory during the final stages of a thrilling Honda Classic, you would be forgiven for thinking that the American was seasoned winner. The University of Georgia graduate fired four birdies in the final seven holes to edge ahead of the supremely confident Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler to gain his maiden PGA TOUR victory.
Anirban Lahiri ended the week on a disappointing note, slipping to a 75 with five bogeys and a double bogey at the 16th hole. The Indian had a promising week though, as he was well inside the top twenty for much of the week. Unfortunately for Anirban, his scores got progressively higher through the week. After starting with a 67 on Thursday, Anirban added scores of 70, 71 and 75 to end the week in T59 at 3-over 283.
Mitchell iced an incredibly resilient victory with an enormous 15 footer for birdie at the 72nd hole, signing off with a thunderous punch to celebrate the moment.
Besides Koepka and Fowler, there was Vijay Singh who was in the mix on Sunday. The 56-year-old former world No.1 was looking in great shape to become the oldest winner on the PGA TOUR, but a wet ball off the 17th tee sealed his fate.
“It’s always exciting to be in the hunt, no matter where you play,” said Singh, who shot an even-par 70 playing in the final group of the day with 54-hole leader Wyndham Clark. “Something’s going on. You’re excited. Something’s going to happen. It’s exciting.”
At the end of 54 holes, Ryan Palmer was down in T39 at even par. Starting four hours before the leaders, Palmer sailed into the clubhouse lead on a sizzling 63. That mark stood at the top of the leaderboard all alone until Lucas Glover joined him with a 66.
Koepka birdied the 16th, as he navigated the bear trap (15, 16, 17) without any damage. The treacherous stretch of tricky holes often determines the winner of the Honda Classic and a two-putt birdie at the par-5 18th meant that Koepka had supplanted Palmer and Glover in the lead.
“I didn’t hit the ball particularly well all week. I putted very well – that’s what I’m pleased about, coming into Augusta and THE PLAYERS, trending nicely. That was one thing that I felt like was missing,” said Koepka, sounding the bugle ahead of the first major of the season.
“I don’t need my ‘A’ game to be in contention. I feel like as long as I do one thing really well – whether it’s iron play, putting this week – I’m going to be in contention. I’m going to give myself a chance at a win come Sunday with nine holes to go, and that’s all you want to do.”
Fowler reached the clubhouse on the heels of Koepka. The Waste Management Phoenix Open champion coasted home on three birdies in the final four holes, but fell marginally short at the end.
“I’m proud of the way I kind of fought through things,” Fowler said, citing lost shots at the ninth and 10th holes that could’ve proved the difference. “I didn’t drive it quite that well today but hit some quality golf shots when I needed to, and nice to finish with three birdies in the last four.”
The day belonged to Mitchell though, despite a rocky start, making two bogeys to open Sunday. He managed to shake himself up to recover to even par before making the turn.
But just when he seemed to put away those early jitters away, Mitchell was forced to lay up with his second shot on the par-4 eleventh before suffering another bogey. An 11-foot putt at the 12th finally swung the momentum his way, as he posted three birdies in a four-hole stretch to join the leaders at 8-under.
In August 2017, Mitchell left himself a 15 foot putt at Pumpkin Ridge in the final regular season event on the Web.com Tour. With a PGA TOUR card on the line, the All-American at the University of Georgia missed to suffer excruciating pain. He would have none of that on the 72nd hole at the Honda Classic.
“I think about it all the time,” Mitchell said about that putt. “I don’t have a number, but it’s in the thousands.”
“I didn’t want to have those feelings today,” Mitchell added. “I wanted to overcome those. I wanted to see what it was like on the other side.”
With Rickie Fowler waiting outside the scorers hut to see if this fell into a playoff, Mitchell lined up and let it roll nicely to the centre of the cup before letting it explode with clenched fist.
“If I make par here, I got a playoff with two of the best players in the world and potentially Hall-of-Famers of all time,” Mitchell said. “That’s a big thought for a guy that’s on his second year of TOUR that’s never won. So I was able to execute and that’s something I haven’t been able to do in the past.”
Keith Mitchell wins for the first time on the PGA TOUR
Jupiter residents Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler finish runner-up
Mitchell posts the first single-digit winning score in a non-major since Justin Thomas won The Honda Classic in 2018
Vijay Singh finishes sixth in his bid to become the oldest winner in PGA TOUR history
Defending champion Justin Thomas finishes T30 in a bid to become the event’s second back-to-back winner