‘Learning experience’: Why Daniel Berger isn’t dwelling on his home loss at The Honda Classic
Daniel Berger had every reason to be mad. The Honda Classic, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is about as much of a home game as he can get, and his five-stroke lead through 54 holes was so big it tied a tournament record.
Of course he had every reason to be mad when he stumbled early, splashed one into the water late and signed for the second-worst score of the day (74) to finish fourth, three back of winner Sepp Straka.
Yet Berger was, at least when facing reporters… reflective?
“Listen, today was a good learning experience,” he said. “I was prepared and ready to play well today, and I just didn’t hit the shots I need to hit. That’s the way golf goes. There are plenty of guys that hit great shots today, and that’s why they’re winning the golf tournament. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the game.”
Berger, 28, was eying his fifth career PGA Tour victory and hoping to check off a win for the third straight season. Instead he’s the first player to lose a five-shot lead through 54 holes since the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions.
Up until Sunday, Berger cruised all week. He opened with back-to-back 65s and storylines were already brewing about him winning at home and righting a March 2015 loss at the same place, when Berger, a 21-year-old rookie, lost the Honda in a playoff to Padraig Harrington.
He was born an hour away from PGA National Resort, graduated from William T. Dwyer High School five miles down the road and now lives in nearby Jupiter.
“Every tournament I play in I want to win,” Berger said on Friday, when he was up three after 36 holes. “But it would be especially nice to win here having so many friends and family here with me this week. But you just can’t focus on that, you just got to take it a shot at a time and really just stay patient because it is such a challenging golf course.”
Berger opened Sunday with a five-stroke lead over four others, was six up on another pro and the next closest group was all at two under. So, no, he didn’t have many players to worry about, but things went south quickly.
After pars on the first two holes, he missed the fairway on the par-5 3rd, laid up and hit his approach into a green-side bunker. That led to a poor out, three-putt from the fringe and double bogey.
Berger said he warmed up fine and felt good, but the putts just never dropped. And it was after his third shot on that third hole, which plugged into the left bunker when the safe miss was right, when he knew he wasn’t as sharp as the previous three rounds.
“So just shots like that that I hadn’t hit the first three days seemed to be more in my game today,” he said.
He added back-to-back bogeys on 5 and 6 before holing a bunker shot for birdie on 7. He moved to four over on the day after a bogey on 12, but again was saved with a birdie chip in on 14.
Playing the par-5 18th and needing an eagle to force a playoff, Berger, from 253 yards out, pulled 3-wood amid pouring rain and found the water guarding the right side of the green. Bogey.
“It was super unfortunate at the end to get the rain,” he said. “Obviously where [Sepp Straka] hit his drive, that’s where we would’ve hit our drives and we would’ve had a 3- or 4-iron in, but that’s how golf goes. You don’t always get the good breaks. You know, I fought hard all day, and so that’s something to be proud of.”
After finishing 16th, 10th and 27th, respectively, in Strokes Gained: Putting over the first three rounds, Berger ranked last on Sunday, losing 3.807 strokes to the field. He didn’t make a putt of over three feet until his seven-foot par save on the 17th.
“Just a poor round,” Berger said. “It can happen at any time. I’m not going to dwell on it too much. Just didn’t hit quality shots at the right time.”