‘Today was a good learning experience’


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — It was the fitting ending to Daniel Berger’s day.

The Jupiter resident started Sunday in the sunshine and ahead of the field by five shots, the largest 54-hole lead in Honda Classic Tournament history.

It ended in a downpour when his 3-wood from 259-yards on No. 18 landed in the water short and right of the pin, ending any hope of a miracle finish.

Berger bogeyed No. 18 to finished with a 4-over 74, his worst score in 25 rounds at his hometown tournament. This after starting the tournament with consecutive 65s. He finished fourth, giving back eight shots on the day to winner Sepp Straka.

Berger’s five-shot lead disappeared in five holes. After six, Berger found himself in the second spot for the first time since he forged ahead on his ninth hole Friday.

He never led outright again.

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“Just a poor round,” Berger said after congratulating Straka, who won his first PGA Tour title with a birdie on No. 18, capping a 66 on the day and 10-under 270 for the tournament.

“It can happen at any time. I’m not going to dwell on it too much.”

Everyone will experience heartbreak, especially on a track as tough as the Champion Course. And it probably will not be the last time Berger will blow a lead. It certainly was not the first. He now is 1-of-4 in holding the lead after 54 holes.

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Even golf’s G.O.A.T, Jack Nicklaus, who made an appearance at the course Sunday, said it’s difficult to start the final round so far ahead of the field.

The Golden Bear admitted he did not like being the hunted.

“Sometimes it’s hard to have a five-shot lead,” Nicklaus said on the NBC telecast. “I never liked a big lead. I usually got through it.”

That’s Jack. Berger is not in that class (neither is anyone else who has played in a PGA Tour event in the last year). But the 21st ranked golfer in the world with four PGA Tour titles did not blame his slow start – or daylong struggles – on the pressure of holding a lead.

“I felt fine today,” he said. “Honestly, I warmed up well and I felt good. I just didn’t make that many putts, or any putts, and if you don’t make putts you’re not going to shoot a good score. That’s what happened today.”

Berger lost his touch on the greens at the worst time. He was no worse than 27th in strokes gained putting in each of the first three rounds.

On Sunday, he was 73rd. Dead last.

“I don’t think I made a single putt today,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. Just didn’t feel good over the putter today.”

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Berger did not make a putt longer than 3 feet until a par-saving 7-footer at No. 17.

The putting, that was on Berger. The weather, that was the golfing gods looking out for Straka and not Berger or Shane Lowry.

Berger lamented the rain that turned into a deluge at just the wrong time. Berger and Lowry, the Jupiter resident who caught Berger early and then held at least a share of the lead until the final hole, stood on the 18th tee box under umbrellas, joking but certainly with a very uneasy feeling.

Straka had teed off in much lighter rain, the ball traveling 334 yards. He turned that into a tournament clinching birdie.

Berger’s tee shot in a downpour landed 273-yards from the hole. Needing an eagle on the par-5 hole he had to rip it and watched as the ball and the tournament were lost in the water.

“It was super unfortunate at the end to get the rain,” Berger said. “Where (Straka) hit his drive, that’s where we would’ve hit our drives and we would’ve had a 3- or 4-iron in.

“But that’s how golf goes. You don’t always get the good breaks.”

Berger knows all too well about not getting breaks on the Champion Course. In his first attempt at Honda, his rookie year in 2015, Padraig Harrington rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole in regulation to catch Berger, and won on the second playoff hole, when Berger put his tee shot on No. 17 in the water.

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“Today was a good learning experience,” Berger said. “I was prepared and ready to play well today, and I just didn’t hit the shots I need to hit. That’s the way golf goes.”

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