Planet Golf — 11 June 2021 by GW staff and news services
In 2nd PGA start, Higgo wins Palmetto

RIDGELAND, S.C. (AP) — Garrick Higgo won the Palmetto Championship at Congaree for his first PGA TOUR victory Sunday when leader Chesson Hadley lost a two-shot lead with bogeys on his final three holes.

The 22-year-old South African shot a 3-under 68 and finished at 11 under in his second career PGA TOUR event. Get ready to see more of him. The victory, along with $1,314,000, gives him PGA TOUR status through the 2022-2023 season.

“It’s amazing,” Higgo said. “I just stayed patient all week.”

It was a heartbreaking finish for Hadley, seemingly in control at 13 under with three holes to play. But he drove into a waste area on the 16th and could not get up and down after missing the 17th and 18th greens to give away victory.

“I can only imagine what it looked like on TV because it looked freaking awful from my view,” Hadley said. “I mean, I could barely keep it on the planet.”

Hadley finished with a 75 after opening 65-66-68. He fell into a tie for second at 10 under with Hudson Swafford (66), Doc Redman (67), Jhonattan Vegas (67), Tyrrell Hatton (68) and Bo Van Pelt (68).

After an even par front-nine, Higgo had an eagle on the par-5 12th and birdie on the 14th to get to 11 under — two shots in back of Hadley.

Higgo also saved par from 10 feet away on the 71st hole after missing the fairway with his first two shots.

When Higgo tapped in for par on the 18th, he headed off to wait for a potential playoff. Turns out, he didn’t need the extra reps as Hadley missed a 10-footer for par to fall to give the rising young player his first signature win.

Higgo took off his sunglasses and grinned when told of his victory, then hugged his caddie to celebrate.

To-ranked Dustin Johnson made a run at the top late in the round, coming within a shot Hadley after birdies on the 10th, 12th and 13th holes. His chances ended with a triple bogey on the 16th hole and he finished with a 70 to tie for 10th.

Van Pelt made birdie on the 15th to get to 12 under, then gave it right back with a bogey on No. 16.

Swafford came close to playing next week at the U.S. Open. A win at Congaree Golf Club would’ve meant a cross-country flight to Torrey Pines. He, too, came close and was within two shots of the lead before finishing tied for fourth.

The tournament at Congaree filled in for the RBC Canadian Open, which was canceled for a second straight year due to COVID-19.

The run capped an unprecedented stretch of golf in the Palmetto State.

It began in April with Stewart Cink winning his third RBC Heritage title at Harbour Town Golf Links and continued last month with 50-year-old Phil Mickelson becoming the oldest major winner at the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island.

THIRD ROUND

RIDGELAND, S.C. – Chesson Hadley had missed 10 of his last 12 cuts coming into this week. He was 192nd in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, 151st in the FedExCup, 320th in the world.

Only his putting, in which he ranked 14th on TOUR, seemed to be going right. The best thing he’d done was take some time away from the game to preserve his sanity.

And yet it will be Hadley, and not his third-round playing partner, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who will go into Sunday with the best chance to win the Palmetto Championship at Congaree.

Hadley, the snapping, lanky 33-year-old from Georgia Tech, was 3 under on the day and 14 under total when the horn sounded for a weather delay after his tee shot at the 18th hole.

“No, I did not see this coming,” he said earlier this week.

Harris English, 4 under on the day, was his closest pursuer, four shots back.

Johnson was 1 over on the day and 8 under total, tied with South African Garrick Higgo (68).

The third round was called for the day at 5 p.m. PT with four players on the course. It will resume at 7:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday, with fourth round tee times from 8:05 a.m. – 1:50 p.m. ET off the first tee.

English, who bogeyed the 17th hole, had yet to putt out on 18 when the horn blew. The winner of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, he had cooled off some partly due to a back injury he suffered at THE PLAYERS Championship in March.

“I never really had any back injuries before I had to pull out of THE PLAYERS, and I haven’t been 100 percent since then,” he said earlier this week. “It’s a long year. I know, 31 years old, I’m bound to have a couple injuries. But it’s been close. … I feel like it’s been trending.”

Higgo, a 22-year-old lefty from Johannesburg who could make the 2022 International Presidents Cup Team, won two of his last three starts on the European Tour, but has been mostly overlooked this week.

Instead, most of the attention has been on native son Johnson. Earlier this week, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster presented him with the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.

Alas, the golf hasn’t come easy lately for the 24-time PGA Tour winner. After missing the cut in two of his last four starts, including the PGA Championship at nearby Kiawah Island, and failing to register a top-10 finish since February, he got away from the game to do some fishing and clear his head. He was struggling on the greens, he said, and while things were looking up for a while at Congaree, he was back in negative numbers in Strokes Gained: Putting on Saturday.

Still, a six-shot deficit is hardly insurmountable, and Johnson surely would love to win in his home state of South Carolina for the first time in his career.

Tyrrell Hatton (67) and veteran Bo Van Pelt (66) are at 7 under, seven back.

Hadley, though, controls his destiny. If he doesn’t do anything crazy on 18 (he’s in the fairway) and shoots under par Sunday, the 2014 Puerto Rico Open champion, 2013-14 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, and four-time Korn Ferry Tour winner will be awfully hard to catch.

SECOND ROUND

RIDGELAND, S.C. – Don’t despair if you didn’t have Chesson Hadley in your fantasy lineup for the Palmetto Championship at Congaree this week.

Even Hadley isn’t sure he wouldn’t have picked himself.

“No, I definitely didn’t see this coming,” he said after signing for a second-round 66 that got him to 11 under and atop the leaderboard. “… I missed all those cuts in a row, and thank goodness I had three weeks off just to kind of hit the reset switch, get out on the boat, and just kind of forget about some things and spend some time with some family.”

Although he has won on the PGA TOUR (2014 Puerto Rico Open), Hadley has struggled mightily this season, twice going five straight starts without seeing the weekend. He came into this week 192th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, 151st in the FedExCup, 320th in the world.

Only his putting, in which he ranked 14th on TOUR, seemed to be keeping him afloat.

Two things have happened at Congaree. That alacrity with the flatstick has gone into overdrive – he made nearly 137 feet of putts Friday – and he’s rediscovered his tee-to-green game. With the afternoon wave still on the course he was gaining 8-plus strokes on the field from tee to green.

“It’s nice to be relevant again,” he said after racking up 14 birdies through the first two rounds and he had a two-shot lead over Dustin Johnson when play was suspended due to inclement weather. Johnson was tied for the lead until he had a double-bogey on his final hole.

Fortunes can change quickly in this game, and Hadley mentioned a long-ago lunch with James Hahn, who had missed eight straight cuts before winning the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship. 

For Hadley to author his own rags-to-riches story, he’ll have to keep it going on the weekend.  

“You know, last night I’m getting texts from everybody,” he said, “like, ‘Great playing.’ I appreciate that, and it does make me feel good that I have that type of support, but let’s – I got a lot of golf to be played. 

“I’m very thankful to be in the spot I’m at and not have to sweat out a cut line,” he added.

FIRST ROUND

RIDGELAND, S.C. — Dustin Johnson got off to a fast start Thursday in his home-state Palmetto Championship at Congaree, shooting a 6-under 65 that left him a shot behind leader Wes Roach.

Johnson, a South Carolina native, hadn’t played since missing the cut the last time he teed it up in the Palmetto State at the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island last month.

Johnson appeared he might hold a share of the lead before Roach, a 32-year-old seeking his first PGA TOUR victory, rolled in a 19-footer for a go-ahead birdie on the 16th hole.

Still, Johnson had a smooth, bogey-free round in the field’s first try at the Congaree Golf Club as the replacement tournament for the canceled RBC Canadian Open, called off a second straight season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Roach, splitting time on the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour this season, shot his lowest PGA TOUR round since November 2019. He was a stroke in front of Johnson, Doc Redman, Chesson Hadley and South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen.

Roach eagled the par-5 fourth, holing out from 105 yards on the 633-yard hole.

Johnson was headed in the wrong direction at the Ocean Course three weeks ago, missing a major cut for the second time in as many months. But if anyone doubted his readiness for next week’s U.S. Open, Johnson easily brushed that aside with his stellar play over the firm fairways and curvy greens at the 4-year-old Tom Fazio course.

At Congaree, he had four birdies in a seven-hole stretch, all on putts 10 feet or less including a two-putt birdie on the drivable, 370-yard third. Johnson chipped in from 82 feet away for his final birdie on No. 9 to tie Redman for the lead among the morning starters.

Johnson was only thinking of a par save when he hit the shot and was overjoyed — well, about as overjoyed as the cool, calm Johnson can get — when it disappeared in the cup for his lowest round since shooting 65 in the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions last January.

“I felt like I’ve been swinging well for a while now, just haven’t really seen the results or seen the scores,” Johnson said. “Made a few putts, but yeah, I mean just playing solid. Finally put a round together.”

Redman was the first to reach 6 under with a run of four birdies over five holes on his back nine.

Hadley’s approach on his next-to-last hole, the eighth, was 2 feet from the cup for his tying birdie.

Van Rooyen was at 7 under through 14 holes. He made bogey on the sixth hole to fall back.

Van Rooyen followed up his successful U.S. Open qualifying in Ohio earlier this week with a strong showing at Congaree. He had missed his last four cuts including the PGA Championship. He spent the past three weeks thinking about his performance and working his game. van Rooyen like what he saw Thursday.

“I think I’m just sort of going forward,” he said.

Brooks Koepka, playing for the first time since finishing second to Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship, opened with a 72 and was seven shots behind the leaders. 

Koepka’s start wasn’t a good sign: the last four times he began a tournament over-par, he went on to miss the cut.

A short time after Johnson finished, he was awarded the Order of the Palmetto from Gov. Henry McMaster on the club grounds.

“It’s a special day for me and my family,” Johnson said of the state’s highest honor for a civilian. “I’ve always been a proud South Carolinian and I always will be.”

Johnson said he was boosted by the strong crowd following him, not just here but at the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head and the PGA Championship this season.

“I get a lot of support here in South Carolina, being a South Carolina native,” he said. “And, yeah, it’s been great” to play so much there.

“Hopefully, I can keep it rolling for the rest of the week,” he said.

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