There were stretches at this week’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship where the golf looked every bit the subtropical paradise shown in its tourism commercials.
But there were other times when it looked distinctly different — when the golf gods put the world’s best through their toughest possible test, turning the shortest golf course on Tour into a rainy, windy sufferfest.
It was only fitting, then, that Lucas Herbert missed a four-footer for birdie at No. 18, leading to an anticlimactic tap-in for par and a one-shot victory. This was a survival test, after all, and Herbert had done just enough to win.
“I love playing when it’s really hard,” Herbert told Golf Channel immediately after finishing up. “I think it makes you be that little bit better and it eliminates the guys who maybe aren’t as good who are hitting shots that don’t get affected by wind or rain as much. I just enjoyed the struggle out there today. There were times where we were nearly sitting on the ground behind an umbrella — and just embracing that was so much fun.”
Other contenders got eliminated, one by one, while several furious charges up the leaderboard fell just short. Scott Stallings shot the round of the day, posting a preposterous nine-under 62 that was nearly 10 shots lower than the field average. For a moment it looked as though he might contend for the win despite starting the day 14 shots back.
“You were hitting good shots that ended up in bad places and bad shots ended up in good places, that’s just kind of the way the day was. Keep moving forward,” he said. That was an understatement.
Patrick Reed had the day’s second-best round and he finished it off in style with birdies at 13, 14, 17 and 18. He signed for a six-under 65 that left him as leader in the clubhouse at 14 under. He said that he felt like he could play particularly creative golf on a day that “you could pretty much throw out the yardage book.” Reed added that the result — by far his best since missing time with illness at the end of last season — was a big confidence boost going forward.
“Ever since I got back from being sick it just seemed like the offense wasn’t quite there, I wasn’t making enough birdies and when that happens one little swing here or there turns a round you want to salvage into a mediocre round,” he said. “This week I had plenty of offense, just needed to take away a few careless errors.”
PGA Tour rookie Taylor Pendrith began the day with a three-shot advantage but yielded that lead with bogeys at 6, 7 and 8. But the Canadian bomber was still within a shot of the lead on the 17th tee, where he chose driver on the short par-5 — but then pulled it into the water. After taking a drop, he chunked his approach into the water, too, leading to a double-bogey 7. He finished the day without a birdie and signed for five-over 76 and a T5 finish.
“Lots of positives,” Pendrith said afterwards. “Obviously it’s my best finish out here [on the PGA Tour]. It was a tough Sunday, which I guess I’ll learn a lot from that, but to have a good week was great.”
Danny Lee began the day three shots back in solo second place, started hot with birdies at 2 and 3 and held the outright lead at the turn, one shot ahead of Pendrith and Herbert. But things spiraled out of control at No. 12, where he made a series of short game miscues and walked off with a double-bogey 6. He followed that with bogeys at 13 and 14 to fall well off the pace.
“A lot of good and a lot of bad. I fought really hard for it, just 12 through 14 was a very, very tough stretch for me,” Lee said post-round.
Lee then played his way back into contention with impressive birdies at 15, 16 and 17 — but fell one shot short with a closing par at 18. He finished T2 alongside Reed.
That left Herbert as the last man standing. He, like Lee, began the day with birdies at 2 and 3. But his two biggest game-changers were birdie putts on 12 and 14, bombs he dropped in the worst of the weather as the rest of his competition was grinding for par.
“That was funny, like, we’ve holed an obscene amount of putts from outside 25 feet this week and got over that one on 14, and just went like, ‘This is my range, I’ve holed so many, this is my range,'” Herbert said. “It was just like, the whole way, that’s not missing.”
Herbert sealed the deal with a combination of steady short game and relentless ball-striking. He got up-and-down from a greenside bunker at No. 16 for a crucial par, just missed a short birdie try at 17 and then striped his approach to four feet at 18 — leaving him with two putts for the win. To the victor go the spoils, and this was a life-changer for the Korn Ferry Tour graduate. He earned a $1.17 million winner’s check, an invitation to the Tournament of Champions in January, a trip to Augusta for the Masters in April and exempt status through the rest of the season — and two more seasons beyond.
It was a lot to soak up in the moment.
“I’ve only had two minutes to think about it because I’ve been trying to push it so far out of my mind, but it just opens up so many doors for me and it’s just so exciting, being able to play out here now and pick a schedule,” Herbert said. “It’s been tough for the guys out of the Korn Ferry Finals, we haven’t gotten a lot of starts, so to be out of that battle and get into some of these really big events, I’m looking forward to it so much.”