PALM HARBOR, FL – Charl Schwartzel used two big birdies to close with a 4-under 67 and made up a five-shot deficit. All he needed was a par on the first hole of a playoff Sunday at Innisbrook to beat Bill Haas and win the Valspar Championship.
Schwartzel’s two-putt par on the 18th hole in a playoff gave him his third victory worldwide in his last six starts dating to December.
Haas, who never trailed over the final 27 holes of regulation, hit his tee shot into the trees in the playoff, came up short into a bunker and blasted long out of the soft sand to 20 feet. He missed the par putt, and Schwartzel tapped in for his first victory in America since the 2011 Masters.
The loudest cheers belonged to Lee McCoy, the senior at Georgia who grew up next to Innisbrook and made good on his first sponsor’s exemption. Playing alongside Jordan Spieth, McCoy shot 69 to finish alone in fourth.
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.
McCoy would have earned $292,800 had he been a pro.
“It’s surreal to say the least,” McCoy said.
Spieth fell behind early, never caught up and closed with a 73 to tie for 18th, seven shots behind. He couldn’t help but applaud McCoy when he finished his round.
Schwartzel was the only player who put any sustained pressure on Haas, and he made his move with a 65-foot birdie putt across the green on the par-3 13th hole. He got up-and-down from a tough lie in the bunker for birdie on the 14th, made a tough par save from the edge of a bunker on the 16th and rolled in a 25-foot putt on the 17th.
He posted at 7-under 277.
Haas had a two-shot lead with three holes to play and had made tough par saves to stay in front. It finally caught up with him when he made bogey from the bunker on the 16th hole, and he closed with two pars for a 72.
With more swirling wind on the Copperhead course, Schwartzel and McCoy were the only players to break par from the last nine groups.
“I think everyone’s goal is to keep bogeys off the card,” Schwartzel said when he finished his regulation round. “You’re just surviving.”
That wasn’t easy to do.
Steve Stricker was two shots out of the lead until he made a double bogey on the par-5 11th and never recovered. Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., starting the final round one shot behind in second and determined to get his first PGA Tour victory, never made a birdie in his round of 75.
“Obviously you can’t be in contention putting the way that I did today,” said DeLaet. “It’s disappointing. I was actually pretty proud of myself. I hit the ball really well. I kept trying all day long, I mean I just kept telling myself it was going to happen, it was going to happen. Never did, but, you know, I’m proud of the effort that I put in. Didn’t happen today.”
Ryan Moore hit the ball great and couldn’t figure out the greens, which were slower than normal. Moore was within one shot of the lead at the turn, but he closed with 12 straight pars for a 71 to finish two shots out of the playoff in third place.
It also was a tough day for Ian Poulter, who had a 75-75 weekend and tied for 67th.
That bumped Poulter down to No. 67 in the world ranking, which could knock him out of the Dell Match Play. This was the final week before the world ranking is used to determine the 64-man field (Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson are not playing). PGA Tour rookie Patton Kizzire closed with a 72 and tied for 33rd, enough to move past Poulter.