[PHOTO: Brennan Asplen]

Erik van Rooyen was riding an all-time ‘heater’, one that seemingly had the course record locked up and threatened to steal the tournament before the overnight leaders knew what hit ’em. But as hot as that man was on Sunday at PGA National, van Rooyen is just that, a man, one who is ultimately at the hands of Mother Nature.

A round on the precipice of history is now a hypothetical, as Van Rooyen’s fiery start of eight birdies in 10 holes was doused by a prolonged storm during the final round of the Cognizant Classic.

“That rain delay did not help me much, I was playing so well,” Van Rooyen said after an eight-under 63. “It’s kind of weird, you’re not quite in your rhythm, but I thought I played great.”

Van Rooyen entered the final round outside the top 30 on the leaderboard and seven shots behind the leaders, and was coming off a frustrating third round. That standing quickly changed with six straight red figures to begin his round, with the South African taking advantage of wet, soft conditions, all of his approaches within 13 feet of the hole and converting what was left on those birdie attempts. “It’s really funny because I feel like I left a ton out there yesterday,” Van Rooyen said, “and I was slightly crabby, and Feeley, my caddie, tells me, ‘Bro, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you might birdie the first seven tomorrow,’ and we almost did that.”

He added another birdie at the par-4 eighth thanks to a second shot that finished within three feet and made the turn in just 28 strokes. Van Rooyen had a chance to get to nine-under through 10 with a 14-foot eagle attempt at the par-5 10th, and though he walked away with a two-putt, it was enough to move him to the top of the leaderboard with the leaders still more than an hour away from teeing off.

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Unfortunately for Van Rooyen, the skies that appeared so ominous delivered on their warning. An ensuing downpour suspended play for the next three hours and 30 minutes. When the competition resumed at 4:20pm, Van Rooyen’s hot streak had been put on ice. Despite the storm making the course especially vulnerable, Van Rooyen’s approach game was just a bit off. After playing his first 11 holes in eight-under he played his final seven in even, which included a bogey at the par-3 15th and a 5 at the par-5 18th, one of the easiest holes on the property… when a 4 would have tied the course record.

“Yeah, it’s hard,” Van Rooyen said. “The greens were so much slower coming back. There’s so many little adjustments you need to make. That shot I just hit on 18 from the left of the green there was so wet. But I want to call myself a pro golfer, I need to be able to adapt to that.”

Van Rooyen later added: “​​It’s just a completely different moment in time. I’ve had three hours to sit on how well I’ve played. You can’t push in this game. It’ll push back, and it’ll hurt. I certainly didn’t try to go make seven birdies in my first nine holes. Obviously I’m trying to hit good shots, if that makes sense, but – the same thing when I come back out there. What was there, seven holes left to play? I’m going to try and hit every shot as good as I can, and if it ends up with birdie, great. Take 17, for example; that was a 35-footer, whatever. What are the odds of making that? Not big. But that’s golf, and it can happen. I tried my best out there, and that’s it.”

His best was still good for a 63 and when play was suspended at about 6:30pm, local time, Van Rooyen’s 14-under total sat one behind Austin Eckroat, who will have 11 holes to finish on Monday. Still, given the soft conditions, it’s likely that Van Rooyen’s mark won’t hold up.

While it’s fair to wonder what Van Rooyen’s round could have been, he was not worried about entertaining such questions. “If I don’t end up winning this tournament, I certainly don’t think it’s because of today or the rain delay today,” he said. “I’m going to take all the positives I can.”

Conversely, PGA National can get mean if the winds decide to show up early on Monday, and Van Rooyen will already be in the area, scheduled to play at Seminole’s pro-am. While prefacing he had no expectations for Monday after coming out on the business end of the weather, Van Rooyen let it be known that he wasn’t ready to leave the table.

“If I’m within two and those boys are walking up to the 15th tee box, I’ll be here.”