SYDNEY (Reuters) – Big-hitting American Harold Varner III bagged nine birdies in a sizzling final round 65 to win the Australian PGA Championship by two strokes from overnight leader Andrew Dodt on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
Varner, who missed out on the title after a playoff last year, rode some brilliant iron work in blustery conditions at Royal Pines to become the first non-Australian to win the title since New Zealander Greg Turner in 1999.
The 26-year-old, who last year became the first African-American to earn his U.S. PGA Tour card through the feeder Web.com circuit, is also the first winner from the United States since Hale Irwin in 1978.
“It’s the first time I’ve won outside the mini tour so it’s a step in the right direction for sure and I played some great golf today,” said Varner, who stands just 1.73m tall but ranked just outside the top 20 in driving distance in 2016.
“I wasn’t too disappointed (last year), it was my first time in Australia but to get it done today was awesome. I’m looking forward to coming back.”
Dodt, chasing a wire-to-wire victory, did very little wrong in his fourth round 69 but was unable to stay with the inspired American down the stretch and finished second on 17-under.
World number seven Adam Scott nailed a 40-foot putt for birdie at the first but, despite another huge putt for eagle at the 15th, never really challenged the leading pair and settled for a 67 and third place on 15-under.
Varner grabbed two eagles in his last four holes on Saturday to move into contention for the final round but his front nine on Sunday was fairly straightforward compared with the fireworks that followed.
His approach shot set up the birdie at the third and a 12-foot putt gave him another at the seventh before he lofted a brilliant wedge to within inches of the pin for a third at the eighth.
It was not until the 16th that he would again par a hole as five more birdies, one with a sensational approach shot that left him with a tap-in at the 13th, and a couple of bogeys saw him clear of Dodt.
“I think on the back nine I only made two par, so a little up and down so like yesterday, I just hung in there and I just wedged it really well all week and it paid off,” Varner said.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)