American Harold Varner III has vowed to return to the play the Australian PGA Championship for a third straight year in 2017 after claiming the Joe Kirkwood Cup with a scintillating final round at RACV Royal Pines on Sunday.
Beaten by Nathan Holman in a playoff 12 months ago, Varner made an early birdie at the third hole before going on a run of four straight birdies from the seventh hole to get to 17-under, further birdies at 15 and 17 putting the stamp on a 65 that was the best of the round of the day to better Queensland’s Andrew Dodt by two shots with Adam Scott a further two shots back in third.
The first American to win the Australian PGA Championship since Hale Irwin in 1978 and only the second US winner in the tournament’s history, Varner warmed up for the final round with two hands of blackjack at Jupiter’s Casino on Sunday morning and went all in over the final 18 holes, his four-round total of 19-under par dwarfing the even par he shot to make the playoff in 2015.
Starting the day two shots back, Varner looked relaxed heading down the 1st hole and was first to bridge the gap with birdie at the 559-metre 3rd, followed up by a birdie at the seventh after launching a monster drive to join Dodt at 14-under par.
A kick-in birdie putt at the par-4 8th gave him the lead for the first time since making birdie on his third hole of Round 2 and despite a wild drive at the ninth kept his momentum going by making another birdie followed by a fourth straight at the 10th to lead Dodt by a shot.
He extended that lead to two shots when he made three after a brilliant approach to the par-4 13th but when Dodt sank a 60-foot bomb on the difficult par-3 14th and Varner missed his par putt from short range the pair were tied at the top with four holes to play.
Further birdies at the 15th and 17th holes restored Varner’s two-shot buffer heading to the 72nd hole, a regulation par at the last completing a round of 65 that was the best of the day and secured the biggest win of the 26-year-old’s professional career.
Seeking the third European Tour win of his career, Dodt did little wrong – making three birdies in an unblemished round of 69 – but simply couldn’t keep pace with the long-hitting American who made nine birdies including seven in the space of 11 holes from the seventh to 17th holes.
Although he was never able to get closer than two shots from the lead throughout the entire final round, hometown hero Adam Scott brought the large gallery following his group to life with a 50-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th, the hole that provided the impetus to his win at Royal Pines three years ago.
The world No.7 made his presence felt early with a birdie at the 1st but uncharacteristic errors from the tee kept him scrambling for much of his round, lengthy putts for par at six and seven keeping him in contention.
After reaching the green at the 273-metre par-4 8th with his 3-wood his eagle attempt travelled four feet past but he made birdie and also at the ninth to turn in 33 and two shots adrift.
He made three at 11 – the third toughest hole of the week – to keep the pressure on the front-runners but after an untidy bunker shot at 13 led to a bogey he left himself with too much work to do in too few holes, finishing outright third ahead of Ashley Hall (70) and Brett Rumford (67) who rounded out the top five.
Outstanding amateur prospect Brett Coletta vaulted up the leaderboard when he was 6-under through his first 10 holes but faltered with double bogeys at 12 and 13 before signing for a 69 to finish in a tie for sixth.
Victorian Matthew Griffin was forced to endure an anxious wait following the completion of his round before he was confirmed as the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit winner.
Griffin, who finished the PGA Championship in a tie for 40th, needed Dodt not to win and Hall to finish outside the top two to hang onto his lead at the top of the Order of Merit, the 33-year-old now granted entry into The Open Championship and lucrative World Gold Championship events in 2017 to go with a five-year PGA Tour of Australasia exemption.