Closing birdie lifts Mitchell to win in PGA shootout

Keith Mitchell made this 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the US PGA Honda Classic (AFP pic)

MIAMI: American Keith Mitchell sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win an epic back-nine shootout, capturing his first US PGA title at the Honda Classic.

Mitchell, who began the last round with back-to-back bogeys, birdied four of the last seven holes in a final-round three-under par 67 to finish 72 holes at windy PGA National on nine-under 271.

That was enough for a one-stroke victory over Americans Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler.

“I’ve been watching them my whole life,” Mitchell said. “Just having my name next to theirs is an honour.”

Another US duo, Lucas Glover and Ryan Palmer, shared fourth on 273 and Fiji’s Vijay Singh another stroke adrift. South Korean Lee Kyoung-hoon and US 54-hole leader Wyndham Clark were on 275.

World number 162 Mitchell out-fought his rivals with a sizzling finish after stumbling at the start, a tap-in birdie at the par-5 third and seven-foot birdie putt at nine the sign of things to come.

“I’ve been close before and I let my emotions take over,” Mitchell said. “I bogeyed the first couple of holes and I said, ‘Not again.'”

After a bogey at 11, Mitchell sank an 11-foot birdie putt at 12 and a 17-foot birdie putt at 13. He put his approach to four feet at the par-3 15th and made the short putt then hit the closing birdie after blasting out of a fairway bunker and sinking a tension-packed putt.

“I was trying to focus on what was going on,” Mitchell said. “My mind started wandering there at the end. I was trying to focus on my read and my speed and I made a great putt.”

Mitchell, who sealed spots in the Masters and PGA Championship, was among six who shared the lead at one stage, including major champions Singh, Koepka and Glover.

Winds batter contenders

Palmer, seeking his first win in nine years, finished four hours before the last group, birdies and 16 and 17 holding up despite a six-foot birdie putt miss at 18.

“To finish the way I did was very memorable,” Palmer said. “Just happened to hit the worst putt of the day at the last.”

Glover matched him in the clubhouse with a 15-foot birdie at 18.

But Koepka — the 2017 and 2018 US Open champion and 2018 PGA Championship winner — made a tap-in birdie to finish on 272 and eliminate Palmer and Glover after a day of battling winds.

“It was extremely difficult. This wind is pumping up 20-25 mph,” said Koepka. “You are never comfortable over any shot.”

Fowler birdied three of the last four holes, including a 45-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th and six-footer at 18 after finding a greenside bunker, to match Koepka in the clubhouse only to watch Mitchell beat them both.

Singh, trying to become the oldest US PGA winner at age 56, found a water hazard at 17 and took a bogey that doused his victory hopes.