5 Things: Henley rises; McIlroy fades; more

Russell Henley during his final round of his win, which earned him a Masters invitation, at the PGA Tour's 2014 Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Russell Henley birdied the first playoff hole and won the second PGA Tour event of his career.

Of the four players in the one-hole playoff, only Ryan Palmer was under par in Sunday’s final round, thanks to a 1-under 69. Third-round leader Rory McIlroy shot a 4-over 74; Henley, who was paired with McIlroy shot a 2-over 72; and Scotland’s Russell Knox recorded a 1-over 71.

Scoring was difficult for everyone on Sunday with a fourth round scoring average of 71.797, 1.5 strokes more difficult then any round this week.

Billy Hurley III shot 1-under 69 to finish solo fifth, his best finish since the 2012 AT&T National when he tied for fourth. Hurley got in when Scott Verplank had WD'd earlier in the week.

Canadian David Hearn shot a 3-under, 67 and tied for sixth with Will MacKenzie.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Sweden’s David Lingmerth, England’s Luke Donald and Australian Stuart Appleby finished at 5-under and tied for eighth.

But all eyes had been on Rory McIlroy to see if he could return to the winner's circle on the PGA Tour. Here are 5 Things to know from PGA National.

• • •

1. NOT TO BE: Ulsterman Rory McIlroy did everything conceivable to give away the 2014 Honda Classic and eventually he did.

It seemed once McIlroy made the turn at 11 under he was in control. But the back nine would be a roller coaster with a bogey at the 12th hole, a double-bogey in the middle of the Bear Trap at the 16th hole and then a bogey at the 17th hole.

The six at the 16th came after McIlroy found the bunker off the tee, then fatted his second shot in the water. That caused McIlroy to fall to 8 under – and out of a lead he had owned since his 7-under, 63 in Thursday’s first round.

“Obviously the second shot on 16 was what sort of killed me,” McIlroy said. “I hit a 6‑iron wide and instead of starting it right at the target and letting it come back into the wind, I was underneath it and came in a little heavy.”

Now McIlroy was behind the proverbial 8-ball. After a bogey on the 17th, McIlroy needed a birdie to get into the playoff. He almost did it one better, hitting a 3-wood to just closer than 12 feet and when the eagle putt slipped past the right side, McIlroy was in a playoff that he was lucky to be in.

“I counted myself very fortunate even to be in the playoff,” McIlroy said after his best finish since a second at the Valero Texas Open last April. “ I didn't play well enough at all down the stretch to win this tournament. I mean, I felt like I was sort of in control.”

• • •

2. CONFIDENCE IN A MISSED CUT: Russell Henley has struggled in the 2014 season, missing four cuts and his highest finish a T-27 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, a field of only 30 players.

So when he missed the cut at the Northern Trust Open last week, it would be hard to think that would be the catalyst two weeks later in Florida.

“He maybe didn’t have his best stuff the whole week, but his attitude has been so good. That's what we talked about after L.A.,” Henley’s caddie Adam Hayes said as he was rolling up the 18th-hole flag. “It's been a struggle. Obviously people talked about how he's put a ton of pressure on himself, all that stuff, but we had a good talk after Friday in L.A., it kind of just turned things around.”

Henley felt the same way his caddie since Memorial did, but was not necessarily expecting a win.

It was more than a year ago that Henley won his first event on the PGA Tour, shooting 24-under par at the Sony Open, but after that Henley by his own admission struggled as a rookie on the PGA Tour.

Now in his 34th event and no longer a rookie, Henley is in the final group with Rory McIlroy, a place he should be the least comfortable he has been in a while.

“I think the biggest thing for me was I haven't been in this situation as much as – I don't know, Rory or whoever,” Henley said. “I think that was the hardest thing, is kind of trying to remember back to where I've had a lot of pressure on me.”

While Henley made birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, his double bogey on the par-3 15th hole and just barely survived the remaining three holes – including a nervous chip on the 18th, which forced Henley to make a 3-footer to move on.

Henley would make a similar length putt on the first playoff hole. That earned his second win and a return to Augusta National.

“I saw a couple Masters commercials this week, and I'll be honest, it hurt, it hurt to see them,” Henley said. “I just kept thinking to myself, and it's been like this for a while; I just can't imagine not playing again. I just feel like that would hurt me really bad.”

• • •

3. RUSSELL WHO? Scotland’s Russell Knox couldn’t keep his card in 2012 and found himself on the Web.com tour in 2013 with occasional stops on the PGA Tour.

Knox had played in 44 events on the PGA Tour before Honda, with only one top 10, a tenth at the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year.

“I know that my game is improving every week and I feel like this is a position which I feel like I should be in,” Knox said. “I'm confident in my game. I was very pleased with my finish. I didn't win obviously but my previous best finish was tied tenth, so how can I be disappointed with this.”

• • •

4. BACK PROBLEMS NOT EXCLUSIVE: Tiger Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors. But with his seventh WD in Sunday’s final round, sixth as a professional, its unclear what Woods' chances are to catch the Golden Bear now.

But even Nicklaus had back problems and worked his way around them.

“I was injected nine (times) by the time I was 19 years old in my back,” Nicklaus said after seeing Woods drive away after 13 holes. “I think a lot of all the vertebrae back here (Nicklaus pointed to his back); I think that's a lot of why I lost so much height. I think it just finally over time destroyed me. I lost over four inches in height. Does my back hurt? Yeah, 24/7."

Nicklaus said that his back didn’t hurt during majors and afterward his back required a lot of exercise so that he could play.

“There was times when I had – Firestone in '81 they carried me off the golf course for the last round, off the practice tee, and then in the Masters in '83,” Nicklaus said of the only two times he withdrew. “I was playing with Player and Couples, and I couldn't get to the tee. That was two times. And I never had that again, so that was really bad.”

• • •

5. SHORT SHOTS: Seven of the top 10 players in the world competed this week, with little success: Tiger Woods (WD), Adam Scott (T-12), Henrik Stenson (MC), Phil Mickelson (MC), Zach Johnson (T-33), Rory McIlroy (P-2) and Sergio Garcia (T-8). . . . Stuart Appleby birdied the final hole to finish T-8, his best finish since winning the 2010 Greenbrier Classic. . . . Luke Donald's T-8 was his fourth top-10 at the Honda Classic in five starts. . . . There were no bogey-free rounds on Sunday.

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