(Reuters) - American Rickie Fowler breathed a sigh of relief after clinching a four-stroke victory at the $6.4 million Honda Classic in Florida on Sunday.
Fowler, previously 0-for-4 after starting the final round leading on the PGA Tour, frittered away almost all of his four-stroke advantage on a breezy day at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.
But he steadied a leaky ship by sinking consecutive long birdie putts, a 40-footer at the 12th hole followed by a 25-footer at the next, and extended his lead to five strokes with two holes left.
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"My putter saved me," Fowler, 28, said in a greenside interview after carding 71 to finish at 12-under-par 268 for his fourth PGA Tour victory. He also has won three times internationally.
"I made some good putts. The two birdies I made on 12 and 13, if I don’t make those putts I’ve got a pretty tight race."
Fowler gave his adoring gallery a moment of panic when he leaked his seven-iron tee shot into a water hazard at the par-three 17th.
But after taking a penalty stroke, he calmly negotiated the water with his third shot and sank a six-foot putt to salvage a bogey, before taking a victory stroll down the last, where another bogey proved almost meaningless.
"The wind was tough today," said Fowler. "I fought as hard as I could. I hit a lot of shots I thought were going to turn out good (but did not). It was blowing pretty good, so kept us on our toes."
Fellow Americans Gary Woodland and Morgan Hoffmann tied for second on eight-under, but the day belonged to one man, who will head to the Masters in April with a new spring in his step.
"There’s less pressure, less stress," said Fowler, who will jump from 14th in the world rankings to inside the top 10.
"I think this is something we needed going into Augusta and I like the spot were we’re at right now."
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Simon Evans)