[PHOTO: Brennan Asplen]

What was expected to be a shootout turned into a slog, the contestants worn down by bad weather and a long delay, and slowed by the stupor of Monday morning. But while the field failed to make a charge the man atop of it held steady, answering with precision and patience and well-timed putting, and for that Austin Eckroat earned his breakthrough win on the PGA Tour.

The former Oklahoma State University product turned in a final-round 67 to capture the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches by three shots.

“I’m really not sure how I feel yet. I haven’t really settled down,” Eckroat said on Monday morning, Florida time. “But just super-excited and been waiting for this moment my whole life, and I don’t really have a whole lot of words for it right now. But super-excited.”

Eckroat, 25, might not have the fame of recent OSU prodigies like Viktor Hovland or Matt Wolff, yet the four-time All-American’s ascent through the professional game foreshadows a player of special ilk. After winning a national team championship at OSU and competing in the 2021 Walker Cup, Eckroat earned his PGA Tour card after just a year on the Korn Ferry Tour. Though he endured a rough start to his rookie year, he ultimately earned eight top-25 finishes, highlighted by a T-2 at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Any worries of a sophomore slump after another so-so opening to 2024 were put to bed this week, as Eckroat turned in an opening 65, then hung around the lead with a 67 and 68. He ended Sunday’s rain-shortened round leading by one, with 11 holes remaining on Monday morning.

Despite PGA National’s reputation as a brute, the course was tame this week, a byproduct of tournament officials easing off the brakes with the set-up coupled with wet, soggy confines, seemingly forecasting a final day of red figures and fireworks. Alas, despite a congested leaderboard, no one broke from the pack. Eckroat’s 54-hole co-leaders, Shane Lowry and David Skinns, could not get their sticks out of neutral, and though Min Woo Lee had an eagle at the par-5 10th to put himself in the mix, the highlights ended there.

Eckroat responded with the type of plodding play the situation called for, carding pars on his first four holes before making his move with back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th. His lone mistake, a bogey at the 14th, was quickly rectified by another birdie two holes later, playing the “Bear Trap” with an ease you’re not supposed to have through that stretch. The final holes were nothing more than a victory march.

“I look at leaderboards when I’m playing. I’m not afraid to look at them,” Eckroat said. “I noticed there were guys close, and when I was on 15, I saw that Min Woo Lee had gotten it to 14-under, and I think he was at 14 or maybe he was at 15. I saw what he was at, and I knew I wasn’t clear then. But there was a lot of guys still in the event, especially with the ‘Bear Trap’ upcoming. It was great to pull away.”

Erik van Rooyen’s all-time round (including an opening-nine 28) doused by bad weather at the Cognizant Classic

Erik van Rooyen, who finished the tournament on Sunday with a 63 and spent Monday morning playing down the road in the Seminole Pro-Member, tied for second with Lee. Cameron Young, K.H. Lee, Lowry and last week’s winner Jake Knapp tied for fourth.

The win places Eckroat into the Masters and PGA Championship, and was the type of performance that begs the question if Eckroat can become another OSU great on tour. While that’s all well and good, Eckroat was more focused on what it took to get here – more specifically, the people that got him where he wanted to go, thanking his friends, family, wife and father.

“Yeah, he’s the one that got me involved in the game. He’s been my swing instructor since,” Eckroat said of his dad. “I’m the second most excited person in the world right now. He’s definitely the first. It’s just been our dream, his and mine together, since I was 3, playing professional golf and winning on the PGA Tour. It’s just a dream come true for both of us.”

So what if the tournament bled into Monday? Good things in life are worth waiting for. Perhaps the only time “waiting” has applied to Austin Eckroat.