Ultimately, the Saudi International provided no shortage of fireworks, right up until the bitter end. Except, unlike those that fell earlier in the week, the fireworks that sizzled on Sunday at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club were decidedly not manufactured.
There was Harold Varner III on the par-5 18th hole, the 72nd hole of the tournament, trailing by a single stroke. After knocking his second shot to the collar of the green, Varner faced two putts from roughly 50 feet for birdie and a tie for the lead with Bubba Watson, sending the tournament into a playoff.
A Tour player might make birdie seven out of 10 times in Varner’s situation — but not Varner. The 31-year-old lined up his putt, made a smooth, clean stroke, and watched as the ball tumbled toward the hole, snapping left in the final 10 feet before finally collapsing, in a heap, in the hole.
Varner needed a birdie to tie the tournament. He drained an eagle and won it.
In the aftermath of the eagle, Varner lapsed into sheer pandomonium, mic-dropping his putter as he swaggered around the green front area, briefly enveloping caddie Chris Rice in a hug.
“I’m not mad at him for beating me,” said Watson, who ran out onto the green to celebrate with Varner, despite it costing him the tournament. “I’m happy for him. He’s a dear friend of mine, and I applaud him. I love seeing that. I cheer for him.”
It was a fitting end to a week decidedly not lacking in drama — a week headlined primarily by rumors of a Saudi Super League, with some of golf’s biggest names rumoredly fetching nine figures in payouts to join a PGA Tour breakaway league. Phil Mickelson fanned those flames early in the week, slamming what he sees as “obnoxious greed” on the part of the PGA Tour, who he views as responsible for the new league.
On Sunday though, the golf took center stage, with Varner and Watson’s duel proving an ample backdrop for one of the most dramatic finishes in recent memory.
The win was just the second in Varner’s career, and the $1 million winner’s check by far the largest sum he’s ever collected. With the victory, Varner becomes just the third champion in Saudi International history behind Graeme McDowell and two-time winner Dustin Johnson.
“I’m just trying to take it in,” Varner said. “Winning just never gets old. I just know that there’s been times where it just didn’t go my way and today it did. I’m super thrilled not just for myself, but everyone that’s either on my team or in my corner. “