Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tiger bails, Rory implodes, Henley wins

Russell Henley made good on his second chance at the 18th hole Sunday and won the Honda Classic after a wild day that began with Tiger Woods walking off the course with a back injury and ended with a four-man playoff.

The closing hour at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens was a series of blunders by the contenders — and even the winner.

Henley was in a three-way tie for the lead, 40 yards left of the flag on the par-5 18th in regulation, when he chunked a chip so badly that it only got halfway to the hole. He had to two-putt for par, and then watched as Rory McIlroy nearly made a great escape from an otherwise bad afternoon. McIlroy, who lost a two-shot lead, hit a 5-wood from 236 yards to just inside 12 feet for an eagle and the win. It narrowly slid by on the right.

In the playoff, Henley was the only player to reach the 549-yard hole in two, and he two-putted from about 40 feet for birdie. Ryan Palmer missed a 10-foot birdie putt. McIlroy went from the back bunker to the front collar and had to scramble for par, and Russell Knox laid up and missed a 20-foot birdie attempt.

"This isn't going to sink in for a while," Henley said.

Thousands of fans who spent hours in the warmth and wind of South Florida surely felt the same way.

Woods abruptly quit after 13 holes and was driven straight to his car. He later said he had lower back pain and spasms, and was unsure if he could play at Doral next week.

And then came all the mistakes by four guys trying to win.

Palmer missed a 5-foot par in regulation that would have won it. He closed with a 69, the only player in the last six groups to break par. Knox needed a birdie on the last hole, but he went from the fairway bunker to the rough, well over the green and then calmly made a par putt just inside 10 feet for a 71 to get in the playoff.

They all finished at 8-under 272.

The conditions were tough. The play was so underwhelming that McIlroy said that if he had won, "It would have felt undeserved in a way."

He won't know that feeling.

Henley, who closed with a 72, won for the second time and qualified for the Masters. He also moves into the top 50 in the world ranking, making him eligible for the Cadillac Championship next week at Doral.

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