Varner III needed just a birdie four to take two-time Masters champion Watson to a play-off on the final day of the US$5 million tournament, to be played at King Abdullah Economic’s Royal Greens Golf & Country Club City.
However, his snake effort on the closing hole was judged to be perfect, falling into the cup to his glee, setting off scenes of wild celebration between the Ohio native and his caddie, Chris Rice.
“I’m just trying to understand,” Varner III said in his post-match press conference. “Winning never gets old. I just know that there were times when it didn’t go my way and today it did. I’m super excited not just for me, but for everyone on my team or in my corner.
The 31-year-old headed into Sunday’s final round with a one-stroke lead over Spaniard Adri Arnaus. By the time they made the turn, they were tied at the top – with a 30 ahead of nine to five under par establishing Watson as the pair’s only real contender.
Bubba Watson eventually missed with a shot after Varner’s eagle finally denied him a chance in a shoot-off. Provided.
Watson’s back nine proved a bit more inconsistent, but a closing eagle on the 18th gave him a two-stroke lead at the clubhouse as Varner III and Arnaus battled to four bogeys on the 16th hole of the Royal Greens, as the course’s infamous afternoon winds picked up.
A successful birdie on 17 left the American in need of a closing birdie to take his good friend Watson to a decisive play-off. However, Varner III had other ideas.
Opting to putt from the fairway at 18, his shot crossed the undulating green, picking up just enough speed as it passed beyond the board to continue its right-to-left motion and drop into the cup.
“That was awesome,” Varner III said, thinking back on the memorable putt. “Obviously that kind of helped!
“I just know there were times when it just didn’t go my way and today it did. I’m super thrilled not just for me but for everyone on my team or in my corner.” -Harold Varner III.
“When I was coming down the hill, the worst case [was that] we’re going to a play-off, and I’ll take him there. And then it came in, and the emotions came out. I like this. When I play with my boys, that’s the emotion I want to see. That’s why you play. Competition is the best thing in the world.
Speaking of his last three holes – all played with an eye on Watson’s score – Varner III continued: “You just want to keep him out of the water on the 16th. I thought worst case scenario, I’ll get up there and do it. I made a great putt. So, I walk to 17, and it’s – yeah, we’re tied!
“We have to wait for them to come off the green. While we’re on the tee, I see it goes all the way to 12. So I’m like, ‘Shit, that’s okay!’. So I’m two back. I’m like, just get something up there, give me a chance to birdie. Eighteen, you know, obviously anything can happen.
“I never doubted myself. I think that’s what the greats do. I think a few years ago I would have struggled to understand that and be like I had to do it. No, play golf, do your job, that’s what I’m supposed to do.
Watson was one of the first to praise Varner III, running from the goalscorer’s tent to the green to hug a player he shares a strong friendship with.
“He’s a very dear friend,” Watson said. “He’s a guy I really like. He’s a guy I want to help. He’s new – when I say new, we know Harold, but it took five years for me to win my first. So he’s a guy who’s just starting to play better and better every year. You see his name a little more. He’s getting comfortable.
Watson added: “I knew it was going to be a battle. I said to myself [after the 11th hole] if I could somehow pull an under the rest of the way, the last seven holes would probably give me a top five. Then the wind picked up, and we played a few holes, and I was like maybe a one-under would give me a top three or something. I never tried to win. It was always just a nice finish.
Going down the 18, he continues: “I knew that if I could make an eagle, I could scare him. Not knowing what he was doing or what they were doing behind me. So I eagled, and I looked up and saw I had a two-shot lead. Then I thought I had a big chance, but obviously he shot better than me to win. So it was a crazy back nine and a fun back nine.
Spaniard Adri Arnaus shot a par 71 to finish -10, third behind Varner III and Watson. England’s Steve Lewton and Australia’s Cameron Smith finished a further down on -9, with 2019 and 2021 champion Dustin Johnson on -7.
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