CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE Colorado (Reuters) - Ice-cool American Billy Horschel withstood an early challenge from Ryan Palmer and a late charge by Bubba Watson to win his second PGA Tour title by two shots at the BMW Championship on Sunday.
Putting superbly when the pressure was at its most intense, Horschel fired a one-under-par 69 at Cherry Hills Country Club to hold off his closest pursuers in the PGA Tour’s penultimate FedExCup playoff event.
The 27-year-old American, who clinched his maiden victory on the U.S. circuit at the 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, sank clutch par putts from eight feet at the 15th and 16th holes on the way to a 14-under total of 266.
Horschel safely two-putted for par on the 18th green, then gave a little fist pump in celebration before being warmly embraced by his caddie.
“It just means a lot,” a smiling Horschel told NBC Sports after climbing into second place in the FedExCup standings ahead of next week’s Tour Championship finale in Atlanta.
“I haven’t had the greatest season but I had my game today,” he added. “I made some big putts and I could rely on my putter because I am a good putter inside 10 feet. This feels good.”
Masters champion Watson, five strokes off the pace heading into the final round, surged into contention for the title with four birdies on the back nine as he closed with a third successive 66 to secure outright second place.
American Morgan Hoffmann fired a 63 to finish third at 11 under while Northern Irish world number one Rory McIlroy four-putted the par-three 12th hole for a second day in a row on the way to a 66 and a tie for eighth place at eight under par.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia, helped by an eagle and four birdies in the first 15 holes, briefly got to 12 under but tripled-bogeyed the 17th after chipping his ball across the green into water to close with 67 and finish in a share of fourth, five off the pace.
Horschel, however, commanded the spotlight as he kept his closest challengers at bay, twice relinquishing the outright lead before regaining it quickly on both occasions.
Three ahead of the chasing pack overnight, he maintained that advantage as he and playing partner Palmer both birdied the drivable par-four opening hole.
Horschel bogeyed the second after ending up in the right rough off the tee to slip back to 13 under.
Both players birdied the par-four third before Palmer cut the deficit to one by picking up another shot at the tricky fifth, where he hit a superb approach to five feet.
Horschel then bogeyed the par-three sixth after finding a greenside bunker off the tee to make it a two-way tie at the top at 13 under.
A 23-foot birdie putt at the seventh restored the outright lead for Horschel, and he did well to remain one ahead by saving par at the 10th where he sank a 22-footer after splashing out from a poor lie in a bunker.
Palmer again caught Horschel with a birdie at the par-five 11th before he bogeyed the 12th and ran up a double at the 13th, where he shanked his second shot into a creek, to leave his title challenge in tatters.
Once again three ahead, Horschel maintained composure over the last five holes, parring them all as he rebounded from his runner-up spot on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship where he dumped his second shot on the final hole into a hazard.
”After last week, a lot of people on Twitter and out there wanted to call me a choker,“ said Horschel. ”I didn’t choke, I just made a bad swing at the wrong time. I was coming from behind. You don’t choke coming from behind.
“To lead this thing, to have a three-shot lead and to hold on means a lot ... it means a lot to have finally got a victory.”
The top 30 players on the FedExCup points list, led by American Chris Kirk, advanced to next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake where overall playoff honors and the eye-popping bonus of $10 million will be on the line.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry and Larry Fine