Caddie Hayes helps push Henley to Masters
It was such a wild and wacky final round at the Honda Classic that when nobody could avert trouble on PGA National’s closing stretch, overtime was ordained.
As the participants – Russell Henley, Russell Knox, Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer – drove back to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole, Henley’s caddie, Adam Hayes, preached a simple game plan.
“Let’s end this fast,” he said.
With daylight in short supply, Henley pumped a drive into the fairway. His ball rested near his divot from where he had pulled his approach on 18 in regulation. Again, the situation was eminently clear to Hayes: “Let’s put it on the green first,” he said.
Henley followed orders, sending an adrenaline-fueled 5-wood from 241 yards high into the air. The hole was cut at the back-right corner of the green. When Henley’s ball crossed the water and landed comfortably on the green, he was the only player to reach the 549-yard hole in two. From there, he two-putted from nearly 40 feet for the birdie and his second Tour title.
The defeat was toughest to absorb for McIlroy, who led by two after 54 holes and was attempting to go wire-to-wire and win for the first time on Tour since the 2012 BMW Championship. His lead melted away as he played the last 12 holes in 5 over and closed with 74.
“Obviously the second shot at 16 killed me,” said McIlroy, who dumped his approach into water from a fairway bunker and made double bogey. “I was underneath it and came in a little heavy.”
His playoff opponents also slipped down the stretch.
“I’ve never seen such a group of players just basically flailing,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said.
Tiger Woods found his share of trouble in the final round, too. He shot 5-over 40 on the front side and withdrew after the 13th hole, citing a lower-back injury.
Henley became the last man to enter the field. He shot a final-round 72 for a total of 8-under 272. Since winning the 2013 Sony Hawaiian Open as a rookie in his Tour pro debut, Henley had recorded only two top-10 finishes. He missed the cut in his previous start at the Northern Trust Open, but credited a 66 in the second round there with bolstering his confidence. So did his work for the past two months with new instructor Craig Harmon.
Henley plodded along until consecutive birdies at 13 and 14, the latter a chip-in to tie McIlroy.
“I just kind of felt like I was going to make it,” said Henley, who joins McIlroy, Harris English and Patrick Reed as players younger than 25 with two or more Tour titles.
Of his rinsed tee shot a few moments later at 15, he said, “I didn’t really see that coming. I felt really good over that 6-iron, and when I let it go, I looked up and it was kind of fading.”
It never had a chance. Henley was beginning to feel the same sinking sensation about returning to Augusta National in April. As a youngster in Macon, Ga., Henley, a 2011 Georgia graduate, attended the tournament annually with his family.
“I saw a couple of Masters commercials this week, and I’ll be honest, it hurt,” he said.
Now Henley won’t have to worry about watching.
His invitation is in the mail.