For all the stunning views at Pebble Beach that can be so soothing, Daniel Berger couldn’t escape the tension when he arrived at the final hole Sunday in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
He was tied for the lead, needing a birdie on the par-5 18th to win. Off to his right was out-of-bounds markers below a row of hedges, where Berger hit his drive on Saturday that led to double bogey. To his left was the Pacific Ocean.
“I was going to go down swinging,” he said.
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Two of the best swings of his career, a driver into the fairway and a 3-wood from 250 yards away in the cool air at sea level, left him 30 feet and two putts away. Berger capped it off with an eagle putt for a 7-under 65 and a two-shot victory over Maverick McNealy.
“To step up there and hit a great drive and then one of the best 3-woods I’ve ever hit in my life, and then to make that putt is just as good as it gets for me,” Berger said.
He finished at 18-under 270 for his fourth career victory.
Berger started his final round with a 4-iron to 20 feet for eagle on the par-5 second hole to catch up to Jordan Spieth in no time at all. And while the cast of contenders kept changing, Berger was never out of the mix until he had the final say with one last eagle, his fourth of the week.
He won for the second time since the PGA Tour Tour returned to golf in June from the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with a playoff victory at Colonial, where a half-dozen players had a chance to win over the final hour.
This wasn’t much different.
Spieth went from leading to lagging behind. He started with a two-shot lead and was three shots behind after six holes, wasting the scoring stretch at Pebble Beach. He finished with two birdies for a 70 and tied for third with Patrick Cantlay (68), who made all his putts at Pebble on Thursday. He had 10 birdies in the opening round when he tied the course record with a 62. He made seven birdies and an eagle in two weekend rounds.
Berger saw a leaderboard leaving the 18th green and knew he was tied. He just figured it would be with Nate Lashley, unaware of the sad turn of events on the 16th.
Lashley, playing in the final group with Spieth, nearly holed his wedge on the 11th for a tap-in birdie that took him to 16 under and leading by one shot. He was tied with Berger with three holes to play when Lashley went long on the 16th hole. He pitched out to 12 feet, missed the par putt and then missed the next two putts from the 3-foot range.
That gave him a triple bogey from which he could not recovery. Lashley jammed the bottom of his putter into the green and left without speaking to the media.
McNealy, who played at Stanford and once lived in a house near the 15th green at Pebble Beach, quietly made five birdies over his last eight holes.
“I had the adrenaline pumping coming down the stretch there and feelings that I hadn’t really felt on the golf course in a little while, trying to close this out and give myself a chance,” McNealy said.
The last one was on 18 when his eagle putt stopped inches from the cup, giving him a 66 and a tie for the lead that didn’t last long. Berger was in the group behind him, and he played the hole to perfection.
“I wanted to win the golf tournament. I didn’t want to lose it on the last,” Berger said. “I just wanted to go out there and try to hit the best shot that I could and I wasn’t going to be conservative on the 3-wood coming in.”
The eagle putt was fast and broke both ways and Berger only wanted a two-putt birdie with no stress. That it fell for eagle was a bonus he was all too happy to take.
Spieth finished in the top four for the second week in a row, a strong sign that his game is coming back after a drought that dates to his 2017 British Open victory at Royal Birkdale.
He hit a hybrid from a fairway bunker for a good look at eagle on the second hole and just missed, and then he caught an awkward lie in a fairway bunker on No. 3, his shot low and long over the green, leaving Spieth fearful it was out of play. He made bogey. He made bogey from a bunker on the par-3 fifth, and he had to play out sideways from a fairway bunker on the par-5 sixth, taking birdie out of the equation.
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“Really it was just a really poor first six holes. And out here, that’s where you can score,” Spieth said. “I needed to be a couple under through six, and I was 1 over. And really, that was the difference.”
A field that featured only three players from the top 20 in the world got one of them as a winner — Berger, who was outside the top 100 in the world when golf returned last June as he tried to come back from wrist injuries.
“I think today really solidified my position as one of the best golfers out here and I just need to continue to do the things I’ve been doing,” Berger said. “And I feel like there’s no limit to what I can accomplish.”