PALM HARBOR — After winning the 2011 Masters, Charl Schwartzel figured it would be the first of many PGA Tour wins. But as the winless seasons started to pile up after that, he admits his confidence took a hit.
On Sunday, Schwartzel regained his confidence when he shot a final-round-best 4-under 67 and defeated third-round leader Bill Haas in a one-hole playoff to win the Valspar Championship on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course. Schwartzel's 7-under 277 was the highest winning score at the tournament since Sean O'Hair's 4 under in 2008.
Schwartzel began the day trailing Haas by five shots and overcame the largest 54-hole deficit in tournament history to win. He earned $1.098 million.
It is Schwartzel's first win in the United States since his Masters victory. A South African (his first name is pronounced Sharl), he also has won 11 times on the European Tour, including the Tshwane Open last month in South Africa.
"After winning the biggest tournament in our sport, your expectations go up," said Schwartzel, who had not played at Innisbrook since 2012. "I figured I'd win a few times. It just never came. I went through a bad stretch, and I lost a lot of confidence. You start thinking, 'Am I actually going to win out here again?' "
When the final round started, Schwartzel was 3 under to Haas' 8 under. Schwartzel opened with a birdie on the par-5 first hole and followed that with a birdie on the par-4 third. He made the turn at 2 under.
The back nine started with bogeys on 10 and 12, and a birdie on No. 11. Then came a 64-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th hole that brought him to within three shots of Haas.
"You don't make those very often," Schwartzel said.
Another birdie followed on the 14th hole. On the par-4 16th, the toughest hole on the course, Schwartzel chipped it close enough to tap in for par. Haas later bogeyed that hole after a bad second shot landed in the thick rough. After Haas' bogey, the players were tied at 7 under.
"I thought the chip on 16 was key," Schwartzel said. "That was a hard shot. My left foot was very low in the bunker. You could easily plug that in the bunker."
Haas missed birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes to finish at 1-over 72 and send the tournament to extra holes.
On the first playoff hole, 18, Haas drove into the right pine straw. His second shot landed in the greenside bunker. Then came a subpar sand shot, which led to a missed par putt. Schwartzel needed only to tap in for par to secure the championship.
"That second shot at 16 is always going to bug me," Haas said. "And then that bunker shot in the playoff, a 12 handicapper could have done that. That was pretty bad.
"I have the word 'choke' in my head right now. But then again, I hit a great iron at 17 and a decent iron at 18, and I thought I made the putt to win. I'm not going to say I gave it to (Schwartzel), but I could've shot better than 1 over."
Ryan Moore shot 71 and placed third at 5 under. Amateur Lee McCoy, 22, a former Innisbrook resident and Calvary Christian player who is a senior at Georgia, shot 69 to finish 4 under alone. It was the best finish by an amateur in a PGA Tour event of top players since 17-year-old Justin Rose tied for fourth at the British Open in 1998 at Royal Birkdale. Robbie Shelton tied for third last year in the Barbasol Championship, held opposite the British Open.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, McCoy's playing partner, could not make a move. Starting the day six shots back, he shot 73 and finished at par 284. "It's a bit of a bummer," said Spieth, who opened the tournament with 76.
Schwartzel was all smiles after his round. He said playing well to close out a tournament on a very gusty day will only help him for the rest of this season.
"It was really difficult out there," Schwartzel said. "You're out there really grinding. I'm very happy with the way I played on the weekend."