WASHINGTON (AFP) – Billy Horschel conjured a moment of magic to close out victory at the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament on Sunday.
The 35-year-old world number 17, who had led by five shots after a dazzling seven-under-par 65 in the third round, endured a nervy final round before battling to a level par 72 to secure victory by four strokes at a sun-baked Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.
Horschel looked set for a nerve-jangling final three holes after a birdie from playing partner Aaron Wise on the 15th green saw him move to within two shots of the lead.
But Horschel, who had already made crucial putts to save par on the 13th and 14th holes, rolled in a monster 53-foot eagle putt to leap into a four-shot lead with three to play.
That effectively killed off the challenge of Wise and the chasing pack, and although Horschel dropped a shot with a bogey on the 17th, he finished four shots clear with a 72-hole aggregate of 13-under 275, strolling off the 18th green to be congratulated by tournament host and golf icon Jack Nicklaus.
Horschel said afterwards he had taken inspiration from the course management of Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as he attempted to close out the seventh PGA Tour victory of his career.
“Learn from those two and understand that when you have a lead you don’t have to do anything special, just have to make sure you don’t give any shots back,” Horschel said.
“I did give some shots back, which I was upset about. And if I did have to do something special, be ready for it. That eagle on 15 was huge. Aaron had just made birdie so if I didn’t at least birdie it was down to two shots – so to make an eagle to go four up with three to play, that’s one you shouldn’t cough up, and I didn’t.”
Wise, meanwhile, closed with a 71 to take sole possession of second place on nine under.
Patrick Cantlay and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann tied for third on seven under, six off the lead, after closing 71s.
A cluster of five players – Max Homa, Will Zalatoris, Denny McCarthy, Sahith Theegala and Daniel Berger – shared fifth place on six under.
Spain’s Jon Rahm, South Korea’s Im Sung-Jae and Brendan Steele finished 10th on four under.
Australia’s Cameron Smith, meanwhile, who had faded from contention on Saturday, blew up in his final round with a five-over 77 to finish tied for 13th on three under.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy also struggled on Sunday with a closing 74 to finish tied for 18th.