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Stanley ends drought with PGA National playoff win

© GETTY/AFP / by Jim SLATER | Kyle Stanley of the United States plays his shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the PGA National on July 2, 2017

POTOMAC (UNITED STATES) (AFP) - 

Kyle Stanley parred the first playoff hole Sunday to defeat fellow American Charles Howell and win the US PGA National, capturing his first tour victory in more than five years.

Stanley, whose only prior PGA triumph came at the 2012 Phoenix Open, matched Howell with a final-round four-under par 66 at TPC Potomac, leaving them deadlocked after 72 holes on seven-under 273.

Howell found the rough off the tee and left himself a 10-foot par putt while final-day playing partner Stanley was just off the green in two, then chipped to four feet. Howell missed and tapped in, then Stanley sank his putt and celebrated.

"I'm thrilled," Stanley said. "It's a special week. I had to play very well. It's a difficult course. It just kind of set up for a finish like this. Very happy.

"I knew it was just a matter of time. It's hard to win out here. So tough to do it again."

Howell, coming off a 10-week layoff with a rib injury, has not won in 293 PGA starts since taking a playoff over Phil Mickelson at Riviera in 2007. His only other PGA win came in 2002 at Williamsburg, Virginia.

Ninth-ranked Rickie Fowler made a career-high nine birdies but the US star also made two bogeys and a double bogey to settle for a share of third with Scotsman Martin Laird on 275.

South Korean Kang Sung was in a pack sharing fifth on 276 that included Sweden's David Lingmerth, Australians Curtis Luck and Marc Leishman and Americans Ben Martin, Keegan Bradley, Johnson Wagner and Spencer Levin.

Howell had some consolation despite failing to end his decade-old win drought, joining Stanley, Laird and Kang in qualifying for the British Open, the season's next major event teeing off July 20 at Royal Birkdale.

"Anytime you can play in an Open, that's my favorite tournament of the year," Laird said. "To have the chance to play it anytime is special. I've heard great things about Birkdale."

"Always majors are really special so it will be really fun," Kang said. "I grew up on an island where the wind's blowing really hard normally, so I'll be fine with the wind, but I'm not really used to that links-style course."

Stanley, who lost his only other PGA playoff in 2012 at Torrey Pines, prevailed after a back nine shootout that saw 12 players within three strokes of the lead at one stage.

Stanley opened with a bogey but began a run of three birdies in four holes at the fifth, sinking 10-foot putts at six and eight. He added a three-foot birdie putt at the par-5 10th and a tap-in birdie at 14.

Howell stayed a stroke behind Stanley with birdies at eight and 10 but grabbed a share of the lead by sinking a 27-foot eagle chip at 14, the 299-yard hole that surrendered the most eagles of any par-4 hole on tour this year.

- Fowler sinks nine birdies -

Fowler made a sizzling run of seven birdies in nine holes to climb within a stroke of the lead after 13 holes. But he had a double-bogey disaster at 14, the week's easiest hole, and not even birdies at 16 and 18 were enough to match the lead duo.

"Having offense and making nine birdies is a really good thing because it's hard to give yourself those opportunities," Fowler said.

"It was fun to feel the confidence in the fairway or even if I was in the rough. My goal was to shoot 62, which if I birdie 14 and close the way I did, that's the number I had in mind."

Nick Watney matched the course record of 64 set by US compatriot Russ Cochran in 2010.

"I definitely just tried to keep it really simple," Watney said. "I was doing a lot of good things. It all kind of came together."

by Jim SLATER

© 2017 AFP