PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Michael Thompson walked down the 18th fairway with trouble looming all around him.
There was water to his right. There were traps to his left. He was hitting into a strong, chilly wind. The pin was almost inaccessible in the right portion of the green.
And perhaps the main trouble was tucked away in his mind, the knowledge that he had never won a PGA Tour event before. And that was after 60 tries.
Thompson, showing poise and steadiness, overcame all those obstacles on that final 556-yard, par-5 hole to make a birdie and walk away with the Honda Classic championship, $1,080,000 and a renewed faith in his ability to accurately hit a very small ball a very long way and put it into a very small hole.
“This is everything, this is a childhood dream come true,” Thompson said after his 1-under-par 69 and 9-under 271 total provided a two-stroke victory over Geoff Ogilvy, who had birdied the 18th in front of Thompson to add a little more pressure to the situation.
The most important shot of the final round for Thompson?
That would be his second shot on 18 after his 297-yard drive found the fairway. He smacked what he called “a piercing 5-wood that rode the wind” and the ball went into the green-side bunker on the left, which was just fine with Thompson because that’s far from the water on the right.
“I was actually playing to hit it into that bunker,” Thompson said.
From an awkward stance, he blasted out of the trap to three feet from the pin and made the putt for birdie and the victory.
On 18, Thompson knew he needed at least a par to win, but for the rest of the tournament he ignored the much-more famous names — Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell to name a few — who were chasing him.
“I think I looked at the leaderboard only one time today,” Thompson said, “and even then I just kind of blocked it out of my mind.”
He added, “I think the Big Man upstairs was watching over me and allowing me to get some good lies in the rough and helped me make some of those putts. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
So, in the span of four rounds at PGA National, Thompson went from a near-unknown to 45th in the world, with his previous claim to fame being a second-place finish in the 2012 U.S. Open.
On Sunday, there were some perks in addition to all that money that had to be deposited into Thompson’s bank account. They include a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a berth in next week’s WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral and a spot in this year’s Masters and PGA.
Not bad for a guy who was searching for answers, and a better golf swing, earlier this season.
Thompson recalled thinking not long ago, “I’m going to lose my card and then what.”
But he never considered giving up, saying, if necessary, he would go back to playing the minor-league tours. And although his future might have been uncertain, there was one thing he was absolutely certain about.
He would not give up playing golf for a living.
“As long as I have a place to play golf, I’m going to be happy,” said Thompson, 27, who played in college at Tulane before the program was disbanded following Hurricane Katrina. He then transferred to Alabama and earned SEC Player of the Year honors.
Thompson is soft-spoken and methodical, and a business accounting graduate at Alabama.
“I’m going to let my clubs to the talking,” he said. “If my clubs talk, and they are saying a lot of good stuff, then good things are going to happen to me.”
As for that business degree, Thompson said, “I’m good with numbers, but fortunately I’ll never have to use it as my career.”
Having a particularly strong tournament was Miami native Erik Compton, a Palmetto High graduate. Compton shot a final-round 70 for a 3-under 277 total and a tie for fourth, his highest PGA Tour finish.
“I played super-good,” said Compton, who has gone through two heart transplants but would rather talk about golf than his health problems.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life, but I really want to win out here.”
Another local, Nick Thompson (no relation to Michael, but the brother of LPGA player Lexi Thompson) of Palm Beach Gardens shot a final-round 74 for a 1-over 281 total and a tie for 23rd.