PALM BEACH GARDENS -- The golf was erratic and sometimes not-so-well-played.
However, the drama was unmatched with a four-way playoff in the Honda Classic that lasted one hole. When all the sprayed, water-bound and errant bunker shots were finished on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, it was Russell Henley who held the trophy and the $1,080,000 winner’s check.
Henley hung on to beat Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer with all four of the playoff participants stumbling down the stretch in regulation.
“It was a rush to be out there playing with Rory,” Henley said, almost in disbelief. “I’ve never played or been part of a crowd so big cheering for me.
“I was doing my best to hit some good shots for them. It was so much fun, I hope I can have a bunch more Sundays just like this.
“This doesn’t feel real,” Henley continued. “This isn’t what I was expecting at the beginning of the week.”
Henley, who overcame a double-bogey on the 15th hole of regulation, saved some of his best golf for when it was needed the most — the playoff hole, the par-5 18th.
He put his drive in nice position and then smacked his next shot, a 5-wood, on the green from 235 yards out, leaving himself a 54-foot putt that he left three feet short. As Henley walked up to mark his ball, he tipped his cap toward the stands.
McIlroy chipped short and made his par putt, Knox and Palmer had short par putts left, but Henley was away and calmly plopped in the three-footer for birdie and victory.
Henley, 24, is a University of Georgia graduate who has won only once before on the PGA Tour, last year’s Sony Open.
All four players in the playoff finished the tournament at 8-under-par 272 totals. Only Palmer, 37, with three PGA Tour victories, broke even-par 70 on Sunday, shooting a 69.
Knox, who has never won on the PGA Tour at age 28, shot a 71. Henley had a 72 and McIlroy, who played steadily and impeccably the first three days and led all three rounds before Sunday, struggled mightily and crashed to a 74.
And if a four-way playoff wasn’t enough drama, Tiger Woods added some more when he walked off the course with lower back pain after playing 13 holes and being 5-over at the time of his departure. Woods left the course holding the hand of his 6-year-old daughter, Sam, and they got in a car and drove way.
Woods will undergo therapy this week, but his status for the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Thursday through Sunday at Trump National Doral is uncertain.
Woods wasn’t around Sunday to see the Champion Course and its infamous three-hole stretch called the Bear Trap punish the late-finishing golfers.
How bad was the golf over the final nine holes?
• The four playoff contestants combined to finish 9-over on the back nine.
• Henley, McIlroy and Knox all recorded a double-bogey in the final nine holes.
• In addition to those double bogeys, the playoff foursome combined for five bogeys coming in.
McIlroy, 24, and easily the most recognizable of the playoff foursome, might have been the most disappointed of the four.
He had control of the tournament from the outset, including a two-shot lead heading into the final round. He let it slip away.
“The 74 today wasn’t good enough to get the job done,” McIlroy admitted. “Even if I had won, it would have felt a little bit undeserved. When you go out with a two-shot lead, you have to play well and you have to win the thing. I didn’t play well enough all down the stretch to win this tournament.”
McIlroy added that he would have considered himself “very lucky” if he had won. In regulation, McIlroy, who won the Honda in 2012, had a chance to end this year’s tournament without a playoff.
With possibly the shot of the tournament, he cut his second shot on the 18th some 245 yards onto the green and left himself a 12-foot eagle putt that would have givem him the victory. His putt just slipped by the edge of the hole.
With the Honda victory eluding him, McIlroy promised to rebound, starting Thursday on the Blue Monster at Doral.
“I just need to pick myself up and get back at it, go down to Doral and see if I can do a better job,” he said.