The 18th hole at Pebble Beach Pro-Am was twice a fork in Daniel Berger’s path this week. Saturday afternoon, he made double bogey after hitting his ball outside the bounds. On Sunday, he aspired to a walk-off two-stroke victory over Maverick McNealy. A four-stroke swing that changed the entire tournament.
Berger’s double on Saturday in round 3 meant that Berger was no longer in the final group for the final. This was perhaps a good thing for him given Jordan Spieth was in the latter group, and that dynamic has not always ended well for Berger. He lost to Spieth in a playoff game at the Travelers Championship in 2017 and somehow two were down after Spieth played pretty mediocre golf on Saturday at Pebble.
Berger played in front of his former Presidential Cup buddy on Sunday, putting two 3s on the card in the first three holes. He went out at 33 and it became clear that he was among the two or three golfers who really had a grip on the golf tournament. After an almost hole-out on the 15th left him rolling around in the sand, the stage was set for a crazy finish, and Berger delivered albeit in a very different way than Saturday.
At 16 under 71 holes, Berger hit a run at No. 18. With Patrick Cantlay and Nate Lashley nipping at heels along with McNealy in the house at 16 under, he hit a lusty 3-pointer to put two putts up for win. He only needed one of them to 65 and win.
“It was the best putt I’ve ever hit in my life,” said Berger, who also noted that the 3-in-18 was the best he has ever hit.
This touches on an impressive 12-month run for Berger, who has nine top 10s in his last 19 events going back to last year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am. That includes two wins – one at Colonial in the first PGA Tour event back from a three-month hiatus, and this one.
It’s big in any year, but even more so for Berger when he missed the Masters in November and is trying to qualify for the first Ryder Cup of his amazing career. A famous hole made such a big difference in how things ended on Saturday, just like it did on Sunday. For Berger, the order, things happened, was very important, and it resulted in the fourth PGA Tour victory of his career. Grade: A +
Maverick McNealy (2nd): The former Stanford superstar clearly learned from another Stanford superstar. He needed the No. 18 eagle to get a chance, and he hit a missile on his second shot before the club twisted the shaft of the iron. A sight to behold. He gets an “A” for the week, but an “A +” on the spin alone. Grade: A +
Patrick Cantlay (T3): Cantlay felt like the problem for the leaders much of the weekend, but it never really materialized for the former No. 1 amateur in the world. After a 62 on Thursday, he stopped out on Friday at Spyglass Hill in Round 2, and it probably cost him a front run, came Sunday. But every time I see him, I’m more impressed. He makes the score look so easy, even when I know it’s not the case. The numbers don’t say that, but he really seems like a top-5 player in the world right now. Grade: A-
Jorder Spieth (T3): The four-time champion ran out of magic late on Sunday when his driver left him and he gave himself no scoring opportunities. Still, I leave this week even more encouraged than I left last week because he claimed this week without making any putter at all. (Spieth lost blows to the field with his putter.) What he did this week is sustainable and reminiscent of what we used to get every week from Spieth. Average to above average in the driver, huge with his irons, and if he makes putts, he wins. That’s the formula, and that’s the one Spieth used this week to stay in the mix through about 70 holes. Grade: A
Nate Lashley (T5): Boy, the ending was tough. He played so well in 69 holes, and then he played from 12 feet on the 16th hole to give Berger a clear path to victory. Lots to take away for Lashley, who went into battle against Cantlay, Berger and Spieth, but that 7 at No. 16 is going to linger. Grade: B-
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