Russell Henley’s birdie on the first playoff hole was the difference as he knocked out 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer for his second career victory at The Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Henley and the gang of four headed to the playoff after all of them posted eight-under-par 272 on Sunday. With darkness falling, Henley was the only member of the group to hit the par-five, No. 18 hole in two. His first putt left him three feet and his second clinched the title as Knox, Palmer and McIlroy all settled for pars. Henley claims victory No. 2 in his first 15 months on TOUR and the three others will evenly split second, third and fourth place monies.
Half way through the afternoon on Sunday there were golf fans everywhere yelling at their television sets, “Does ANYONE want to win this?” After beginning the day in the final group with 54-hole leader and two-time major champion Rory McIlroy, it was the OTHER 24-year old who ended up surviving a very trying Sunday at the Champion Course. After only making four bogeys in the first three rounds, Henley had a bit of nerves on Sunday as he made three bogeys and a double in a stretch of 10 holes (Nos. 6-15). But, he held his nerve and his putter kept lagging them tight, including a three-footer on the 72nd hole to make it a four-man playoff.
After winning his FIRST-ever TOUR event as a pro last January at the Sony Open, Henley’s rookie year didn’t take off the way gamers had hoped. The 23-year old played 23 more events after his inaugural victory and only found the top 10 two more times and added just two other top 25s. Golf is hard. In his last 10 starts of 2013 his best finish was T27. As 2013-14 geared up, gamers had to take into account multiple factors when putting their teams together and recent form is a large part of that. There wasn’t much to push Henley on to their radars. The talent is there; the form was not. As 2013-14 wrap-around season began, Henley did nothing to gain the attention of gamers. In his first nine events, he was cut four times and his best finish was 27th. That was in the 30-man HTOC. That form couldn’t have inspired gamers.
It’s a funny old game sometimes and there’s a reason I have a section called “horses-for-courses” in my preview column. Russell Henley, who fired 68-71-70-70 here last time in his first attempt, will now head into that column in 2015. He obviously likes the sight lines, crowds, greens and everything else as he opened this week with 64 and was just two shots behind McIlroy Sunday afternoon on the first tee. None of his performance numbers jump off the page this week so it’s fair, I believe, to add him to your “tough guy” lists. Anyone at that age that is NOT named McIlroy who battles like that all day, especially after a ball in the water on No. 15 Sunday, and beats three guys in a playoff is good in my book. His first win showed us he could get crazy low and crazier hot with the putter. His second win showed us he could gut it out. That’s a pretty solid resume. Gamers, we know he can win. Now, the question is can he perform at a more consistent level for salary games and weekly games. I liked what I saw today!
With this victory, Henley collects $1,080,000, 500 FedExCup Points and entry into the World Golf Championship Cadillac Championship at Doral next week.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won the first 14 of 15 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson and Russell Henley have collected the hardware this year for the stars and stripes. Jason Day is representing the rest of the world as the Australian won the WGC-Match Play last week.
Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler remain the only first-time winners this season. There were 12 first-timers in 40 events last year.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. I’m always trying to figure out if this is a trend or not. In 2013-14 seven of 14 leaders have gone on to win. Rory McIlroy has now failed to convert two of five career leads as his one-shot lead on Sunday didn’t hold up.
The Champion Course lived up to its nickname on Sunday as only 17 of the 70 players broke par. Ryan Palmer was the only one of the four in the playoff who accomplished this.
How It Shook Out:
2007: Mark Wilson (-5); First win on TOUR; 12 players broke par
2008: Ernie Els (-6); 14 players broke par
2009: Y.E. Yang (-9); First win on TOUR; 26 players broke par
2010: Camilo Villegas (-13); 16 players broke par
2011: Rory Sabbatini (-9); 16 players broke par
2012: Rory McIlroy (-12); 25 players broke par
2013: Michael Thompson (-9); 17 players broke par
2014: Russell Henley (-8); 45 players broke bar
Michael Thompson remains the only Honda winner that does NOT have multiple wins on TOUR. Yet. Jack Nicklaus is the only repeat winner of this event.
Since moving to PGA National in 2007, this is the second playoff event. Mark Wilson also won a four-banger in 2007.
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and was joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia and Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua now Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson, 35, joined them at Riviera. Walker has now added TWO more victories to the guys currently in their prime!
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and now Russell Henley, 24, are the twenty-somethings on the board. With Henley’s victory, the Young Guns now have eight wins to the Prime Timers seven.
The Old Guys are playing like old guys as they have zero wins this season. Stuart Appleby, 42, began the day four shots behind and settled for a T8 finish.