Sometimes a place just feels like home.
For Daniel Berger, it’s the TPC Southwinds where he emerged from a massive player logjam on Sunday to defend his title at the St. Jude FedEx Classic.
“I battled so hard, I’m extremely proud,” Berger said after Rafa Cabrera Bello failed to hole his second shot at the par four 18th.
Berger, who shot 66-66 over the weekend, finished ahead of the last three groups and posted 10-under par then watched as no one could match him. “”I played so good, I couldn’t be happier,” said the 2015 PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year who got his first victory on the Southwinds layout last year. He’s the first back-to-back winner on the difficult course since David Toms did it in 2003 and 2004.
“Golf is tough, I can’t believe I won again,” exclaimed Berger, who stayed in the same hotel room he occupied last year.
Berger’s magic formula over the final 18 holes was to stay bogey free. He tied for the lead with a birdie at the 13th then another at 15 put him ahead of a pack of players that included major champions like Charl Schwatzel, Stewart Cink and Phil Mickelson. Schwartzel came up at shot short and tied for second with Whee Kim at nine-under.
Mickelson made the turn at nine-under then another birdie at the 10th got him to 10-under and in the lead. But disaster struck at the par four 12th when he lost his tee shot then hit his third into the water. He would end up with a quadruple-bogey seven and finished ninth at seven-under par. Mickelson lamented that the physical part of his game is fine. “It was as if I was a rookie,” he said of his mental game. “It was as if I never won before.”
While Berger might have surprised some over the final 18, NCAA individual champion Braden Thornberry, a sophomore at Ole Miss, suprised everyone. He came up with a final round 65 that got him to eight-under par, tied for fourth. He was already being asked about turning pro but simply added, “I’m just going back to school. I can think about that another time.”
The winner was already thinking about how his second victory has changed his season.
“It takes a lot of pressure off you,” said Berger, who climbed into the top 10 in the FedEx Cup rankings and left Memphis with another week of great memories.