LA QUINTA, Calif. – Mark Wilson made a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the Humana Challenge on Sunday, beating Robert Garrigus, John Mallinger and Johnson Wagner by two strokes in a dramatic dusk finish to the wind-delayed tournament.
Moments after Garrigus barely missed a 35-foot eagle putt that would have given him the lead, Wilson coolly made his birdie try in the disappearing light, calmly celebrating his fifth career PGA Tour victory.
“Robert and I, going back and forth, we really enjoyed that,” Wilson said. “It just came down to 18, and I didn't want to give him a chance to make that putt to tie me. ... That's what we play for. You want somebody to win it, not necessarily to lose it.”
Wilson led by three strokes Sunday morning after finishing his third round, which was delayed by ferocious wind Saturday. Wilson quickly gave away the lead on the low-scoring Palmer Private course, but played bogey-free over the final 15 holes while every other competitor dropped back — including Garrigus, who fell out of the lead when he missed a 5 1/2-foot par putt on the 17th.
Wilson closed with a 3-under 69 to finish at 24 under, taking the US$1,008,000 winner's share of the $5.6 million purse despite the growing dark and cold. While most everybody else pulled on sweaters for the final holes, the Wisconsin native stayed in his polo shirt out of superstition and familiarity.
“It's a feel thing,” Wilson said. “I've been playing with short sleeves all day. I didn't just want to put it on and get a new feeling, because everything was going well.”
After wind gusts topping 56 kilometres per hour caused damage on all three courses and forced an early end to Saturday's competition, the final round stretched well past sunset in the Coachella Valley.
“We really couldn't see much,” Garrigus said. “I could barely pick up the flag on 18. We had a great day, and it got pretty dark. I wish I could have read that putt a little better.”
The first three rounds were dominated by low scores, but Jeff Maggert made the biggest move in the final round, moving up to fifth with a bogey-free 64.
Calgary's Stephen Ames shot 2-under 70 for the second straight round and finished in a tie for 22nd at 15 under. David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., did not make the final round cut, which wasn't determined until Sunday morning.
Eight players were within two strokes of the lead when the final group neared the turn, but Wilson weathered every challenge with solid shot-making that added to his reputation as a fast starter. Wilson won twice in the first few weeks of last season, and each of his five career victories have come before mid-March.
“The only thing I can think of is the break in November and December,” Wilson said. “I clear my mind of golf. I tend to remember the good things I did in the season before, and when I've come out the last two years, I've really had a clear mind focused on what I'm doing.”
Wagner, who won the Sony Open last week in Hawaii, birdied two of his final three holes, hitting a seven-foot birdie putt on the 18th to finish at 22 under. Mallinger then pushed a 15-foot birdie putt inches wide on the 18th, barely missing the chance to move into a first-place tie.
The exciting finish in the gathering darkness capped a revitalizing week for the erstwhile Bob Hope Classic, which signed its first title sponsor in four years and partnered with the foundation of former President Bill Clinton, who serves as the tournament's new host.
The revamped pro-am dropped its traditional fifth day of competition and boosted its purse, attracting the best professional field in several years. Attendance also increased sharply, with crowds gathering to watch Phil Mickelson and the celebrity competitors over the first three days — including Clinton, whose round was interrupted by wind Saturday.
Wilson holed a bunker shot on the par-3 12th to reclaim sole possession of the lead at 22 under, pulling one stroke ahead of Mallinger and Garrigus. Mallinger caught up on the 14th with a short birdie putt, and Garrigus joined them moments later in the next group.
Wilson and Garrigus then both holed tough birdie putts on the 16th, but Garrigus' tee shot on the 17th landed on the fringe. He missed his par putt, dropping back to 22 under while Wilson grinded out a par.
Garrigus easily reached the 18th green in two, but his long eagle putt over a rise barely missed the hole, going nine feet past.
Garrigus, Zach Johnson, Ben Crane and Brandt Snedeker were three strokes behind Wilson after finishing their third rounds early Sunday morning. Garrigus shot a third-round 61, moving into position to contend for his second PGA Tour victory.
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