PALM BEACH GARDENS – Keith Mitchell has never faced the kind of pressure he was up against over the final stretch of holes at PGA National Resort’s daunting Champion course on Sunday, but he hardly blinked, calling on his preparation and ball-striking prowess to end up where he’s never been before on the PGA Tour.
Mitchell calmly rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt on the closing hole to finish at 9-under-par 271 and garner a one-shot victory, his first on the PGA Tour, at The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Mitchell, playing in the next-to-last group, fired a 3 under 67 that featured six birdies (four of them in the final seven holes) and three bogeys under wild and windy conditions at the home of the “Bear Trap,” holes 15-17, which is considered one of the toughest three-hole stretches on the circuit.
Reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion, fired a 66 on Sunday to finish at 8-under par and in a tie for second with Rickie Fowler, who carded a 67 in the final round.
“I was just trying to focus on what was going on,” Mitchell told NBC Sports after the win. “My mind started wandering a bit there toward the end, but I was trying to focus on the final putt itself and the read and to clear my mind of everything else.
“I’ve been close (in the past) and I’ve let my emotions take over,” Mitchell added. “I bogeyed the first two holes, but I told myself ‘I’m not letting this happen again.’ I wanted to stick it out, use what I’ve learned over the past couple of years. I was playing great down the stretch.”
Ryan Palmer carded a 63 early in the day to assume the lead in the clubhouse and then waited to see Lucas Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open winner, match his total about 90 minutes later after a 66. They both ended up in a tie for fourth, two shots in back of Mitchell.
Fiji’s Vijay Singh, who at the age of 56 was making a bid to become the oldest-ever winner on the PGA Tour, finished alone in sixth after an even-par 70. Third-round leader Wyndham Clark shot a 72 on Sunday and ended up tied with tied for seventh with Kyoung-Hoon Lee of South Korea (71) at 5 under.
The 27-year-old Mitchell, who was born in Tennessee and played collegiately at Georgia, is in his second season on the PGA Tour. Until this week, his best finish was a runner-up at last year’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. Mitchell’s best result this season was at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea, where he tied for 14th.
Mitchell took the lead on the 15th hole with a three-foot birdie putt after a nerveless tee shot over the water on the first hole of the “Bear Trap.”
Koepka and Fowler eventually joined him at 8 under but had to settle for second as Mitchell laid up on his second shot on the par-5 18th after finding the bunker off the tee. He then wedged his approach to close range and rolled in the winner.
Koepka, who finished his round with a two-putt birdie on the par 5 closing hole, then waited about an hour as the final groups completed play to find out he finished second.
“I played good today, just left a couple putts short,” Koepka said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to do that, and it ended up costing me. Every tournament you’re in contention, you’re not concerned about anything else other than trying to get the job done. It felt like that. I came pretty close.”
Fowler, whose win at last month’s Waste Management Open was his fifth victory in his PGA Tour career, birdied three of the final four holes to post a 67 and into a short-lived tie for the lead.
“I’m proud of the way I kind of fought through things,” Fowler said. “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.
“I knew what Keith was going through on the last, having been there, and it’s not easy, winning out here, especially your first. So seeing him make that putt, it’s cool.”
Mitchell was in awe seeing his name alongside Koepka and Fowler on the leaderboard.
“These guys are awesome, and I know Brooks is young and Rickie is young but they’ve been out here a long time,” Mitchell said. “I’ve watched them in junior golf and in college, and just having my name next to theirs is an honor.”
Jim Furyk (67), Jason Kokrak (68), and Spain’s Sergio Garcia (69) tied for ninth at 4 under.
–Field Level Media