CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) — The bad swing a week ago is a distant memory. The blown lead Sunday — that wasn’t enough to derail Billy Horschel, either.
Horschel let a three-shot lead drop to nothing early in the final round of the BMW Championship before rebounding for a two-stroke victory over Bubba Watson. Horschel shot a 1-under 69 and finished at 14-under 266 to put himself in prime position for the FedEx Cup title and its $10 million bonus at the Tour Championship next week.
“If I were a betting man, I’d put some money on me,” said Horschel, who made $1.44 million for his second career PGA Tour victory.
Horschel heads into the final week of the playoff chase in second place in the points standings thanks to the victory and his tie for second a week ago — when he chunked a 6-iron well short on the final hole at TPC Boston, squandering a chance to win or force extra holes with playoff leader Chris Kirk.
This time, nursing a two-shot lead, the 27-year-old from Grant, Florida, smoothed a 9-iron into the middle of the 18th green and the only drama was whether he’d have time for a quick pit stop before he had to putt. Horschel sprinted up the fairway, ducked under the ropes and was back in plenty of time to two-putt and close out the victory.
“Obviously, after last week, a lot of people on Twitter were calling me a choker,” Horschel said. “I didn’t choke. I made one bad swing at a bad time. To start with a three-shot lead today and hold on means a lot.”
About an hour earlier, it was another chunked shot that drastically altered the course of the tournament.
Ryan Palmer erased his opening three-shot deficit to Horschel and was tied after six holes, then again after 11.
Palmer was one behind as the final threesome walked down the 13th fairway, with Horschel buried in the right rough and Palmer buried in the left. Horschel hit his second shot safely on the green. Palmer shanked his into a small creek that runs in front of the green. He made double bogey to fall three behind.
“A shank? (Doesn’t happen) very often,” Palmer said. “But I’m doing with the downhill, down in the rough, I’m blaming it on that. But it happens. It’s a fickle game.”
That left Sergio Garcia, who cut a seven-shot deficit to two, as the last true threat, but his chance imploded on the par-5 17th — when he laid up, cooked his third shot over the green, then chipped into the water. He made a triple-bogey 8 — sullying a round of 67. He finished at 9 under, tied for fourth with Palmer (71), Rickie Fowler (68) and Jim Furyk (66).
“It’s what happens when you’re not mentally sharp,” Garcia said about the decision not to go for the green in two. “Then, just a mistake after another mistake.”
Horschel said losing the lead early didn’t bother him much.
“That’s why you have a three-shot lead. To have a little wiggle room,” he said.
Unlike Palmer and Garcia, Watson, who shot 66, never truly threatened to take the lead, but he didn’t blow up, either. He missed a 25-foot birdie putt on 18 that would’ve drawn him within one of Horschel, who was behind him in the fairway.
But Watson didn’t make much all week. He finished 42nd in putting over four rounds. Still, he’ll go to Atlanta third in the standings, joining Kirk, Horschel, Rory McIlroy and Hunter Mahan among the top five, all of whom control their destiny — meaning a win will give them the playoff title, as well.
“Maybe that’s when I make my putts,” Watson said.
Palmer’s fourth-place finish moved him from 37th to 23rd in the standings.
But outside of Horschel, Sunday’s biggest winner was third-place finisher Morgan Hoffman, who turned the old-school, mile-high layout at Cherry Hills into his personal pitch and putt over the weekend. He shot 7-under 63 on Sunday to go with his course-record 62 on Saturday and vaulted from 68th to 21st in the standings. He started the playoffs 124th, matching the worst starting ranking to make the 30-player Tour Championship in the eight-year history of the playoffs.
“That’s the perfect way of putting it — ‘nothing to lose,'” Hoffman said. “Carefree and just go out and fire at pins.”
McIlroy finished tied for eighth after a 66 that included a replay of the worst kind — a four-putt on the 12th green for the second straight day. Still, he’s comfortably in the mix for next week.
Not so for Stuart Appleby, who missed an 18-foot birdie try on his last hole to end up in 31st. And Keegan Bradley’s decision to withdraw Saturday because of a question over a drop he took in the opening round left him in 33rd, a five-spot drop.
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