PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida (Reuters) - Rookie Daniel Berger came from nine strokes behind the lead to enter a playoff for the Honda Classic on Monday but lost out on the second sudden-death hole to Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.
The 21-year-old Floridian, whose father Jay was a professional tennis player, reaching the quarter-finals in the French Open and U.S. Open, is ranked 173rd in the world, but showed the talent and poise to suggest his maiden win isn’t far away.
“If you told me I was going to finish solo second when the week started, I’d probably have taken it,” said Berger after his shot into water on the 17th hole handed victory to Harrington, 22 years his senior.
“Right now, I am not as happy as I wish I was. It won’t be the last time, so I just look at it as that.”
While the lead changed 12 times, including ties, in the final round, Berger came from nowhere with a superb six-under 64 at a challenging PGA National course as more experienced players, such as Britain’s Ian Poulter and Paul Casey, fell away.
“I kind of knew that no one was really going to run away with it just because it’s playing so tough. So I tried to give myself as many opportunities for birdie as I could,” he said.
Berger described Harrington’s superb tee shot on the second playoff hole — the par-three 17th — as a “dagger to my heart” but said his youth hadn’t been a factor in the head-to-head contest.
“That’s the great thing about golf is it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s just getting the ball in the hole. Obviously he’s a great player. He’s won three majors. You don’t win three majors by accident.
“This was definitely the biggest moment of my life, if you can imagine two years ago I was playing college golf tournaments,” said Berger. “It’s nice to be in this position.”
Despite his father’s prowess in tennis, Berger decided at a young age that he preferred golf and now hopes he can turn talent into titles.
“I think this week shows with the depth of the field and how many great players there are, that I can compete with the best in the world,” he said. “I know this won’t be the last chance that I have to win.”
Reporting By Simon Evans. Editing by Steve Keating.