A nerve-wracking final round adds drama to Golf's fan-free return

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The PGA Tour returned from a three-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday. But for golf enthusiasts around the world, the true measure and appeal of a tour event is a tight, nerve-wracking final round.

If the planned 18 holes end in a tie at the top of the scoreboard leading to a tense, more nervous playoff, then all the better.

In that sense, professional golf got its wish on Sunday with a star-studded scoreboard featuring the game's top players, who hovered and stumbled alternately in what was an entertaining ending to an eventful week for the sport.

The Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth started with the 148 players in the field who successfully pass the tests for the corona virus. Then, at the beginning of each of the four rounds, players, caddies and officials on the golf course paused in honor of George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis led to police protests worldwide. Then, the golfers adapted to a new state of tournament play: competition without fans.

Eventually a one-hole playoff at Colonial & # 39; s 17th hole with a rising star on the tour, Collin Morikawa, 23, ended up missing a short par putt who handed the championship over to Daniel Berger , another emerging young player who has had to overcome serious, career-threatening injury.

Berger captured his berth in the playoff with a spinning birdie putt on the 72nd hole of the event. Morikawa could have won on the same 18th green, but missed a 3-foot putt. Berger, 27, whose playoff record for Sunday was 0-2, felt sorry for Morikawa.

"Of course I didn't want to win it like that, but sometimes that's just how golf goes," Berger said. , who has now won three tournaments in his career and four top 10 finishes in 2020. “To get out here and beat so many of the best players in the world, look at the field that was here this week and I don't have a great playoff record – so to appear here this way, i am very proud of myself.

Morikawa then explained that he had hit the well on the 18th hole as he intended, but had misread the green break. Of his missed playoff putt, he simply said, "Just not a good putt."

The top golfers made a run for the tournament on Sunday, including Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau, who all finished within two strokes of the lead.

& # 39; The world's top ranked player, Rory McIlroy, started the day with a chance to catch the leaders, but took the first hole, the course is the easiest. From there it went downhill. When he first played at Colonial, he took over the fourth, fifth, and ninth holes and doubled the seventh, leaving the game early. He finished with a four-over-par 74.

Playing with McIlroy was DeChambeau, who was just as cheerful as his partner was discouraged. DeChambeau had played the event four times and made the cut only once. He struck three strokes behind Schauffele, leader of the third round, on Sunday, but with five birdies in a nine-hole length near the middle of his round, he counted on a tie for the lead.

DeChambeau's 145-yard approach shot to the 17th green flew long and in a difficult spot to chip from behind the hole. He did not recover well from that predicament and the subsequent bogeyman slowed down. Still, he got a chance to get into the playoff with a birdie attempt at 18 that he nearly punctured.

DeChambeau, whose newly improved, muscular upper body enabled him to defeat sky-high drives that overwhelmed the venerable colonial layout,

& # 39; If I Putted Well & # 39 ;, he said afterwards, 'he had won a lot this week. I am very encouraged.

Berger's comeback comes after a confusing, grueling injury in 2018. After finishing sixth at the United States Open, he felt pain in his right index finger after hitting the next event of the tour, the Travelers Championship. Berger tried to play through the pain for months, but the discomfort not only worsened, it also led to an inflammation of his right wrist. An extended rest period was the medically recommended course of action.

While Berger made strides in 2019, he didn't seem to regain his old form until spring, with a tie for the ninth, a tie for fifth, and a shared fourth in three consecutive tour events. Berger said the health problems in his career helped motivate him.

Updated June 12, 2020

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What should I do if I feel sick?

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"There were so many times today that I could have given up or put the pressure on me," he said. "But I hung in there and practically played some of the best golf I've played in the last five holes of the past six years."

Harold Varner III – an early tournament leader who was one of the few black golfers on elite professional tours and who was vocal in the discussion in golf about racial injustice last week – started the discussion but had some costly missteps in the middle of his round on Sunday. He shot 72 and finished in tied 19th place. including four birdies and five bogeys. He finished in 10th place.

Spieth nevertheless felt refreshed and not only because he was playing competitive golf again.

"I definitely see progress," said Spieth. "I knew I came in that I didn't have all the tools. I didn't have all my weapons yet. But I definitely won more this week, got a lot of confidence."

Bill Nichols contributed to the reporting.

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