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Eckroat realizes dream, bags maiden PGA title at Cognizant

AUSTIN Eckroat celebrates after winning his first PGA Tour title following a victorious performance at Cognizant Classic. | BRENNAN ASPLEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — Austin Eckroat held off Australia’s Min Woo Lee over the final holes after a Monday resumption to win the storm-interrupted Cognizant Classic for his first PGA Tour title.

The 25-year-old American made three birdies, a bogey and seven pars to complete a four-under par final round of 67 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

That left overnight leader Eckroat on 17-under 267 for 72 holes, good enough to defeat Australia’s Lee and South African Erik van Rooyen by three strokes in the PGA’s first Monday finish since last year at Pebble Beach.

“It’s crazy,” Eckroat said.

“This has always been my dream, to win on the PGA Tour, and I haven’t won since 2019 — it was a college event — it has been so long. I’m just so happy to do it.”

“This is just a dream come true.”

South Korea’s Lee Kyoung-hoon shared fourth on 271 with Americans Jake Knapp and Cameron Young, England’s David Skinns and Ireland’s Shane Lowry.

Eckroat’s best PGA Tour result over 49 prior starts was a runner-up effort last May at the Byron Nelson.

“It’s not a fun finish whenever you have to hold onto a lead,” Eckroat said.

“Then the adversity of sleeping mid-round. Just really happy with how I handled it.”

Eckroat was 15-under after seven holes and clung to a one-stroke lead over clubhouse leader van Rooyen when darkness fell Sunday, leaving 26 players to complete their final round on Monday after Sunday storms stopped play for 3 1/2 hours.

“I knew I had a lot of work to go,” Eckroat said.

“It wasn’t a comfortable position.”

Lee made a morning charge with an eagle at the par-5 10th, reaching the green in two and sinking an eight-foot putt, and made a seven-foot birdie putt at 12 to reach 14-under, one off the lead.

But Eckroat, after four morning pars, sank birdie putts at 12 and 13 to reach 17-under, stretching his advantage to three strokes.

“From the first hole I was shaking,” Eckroat said. “I was nervous all-day long. It was because we had the break. It really made me think about it for a while. But I was able to keep swinging well, just my processes and it all worked out well.”

At 14, Eckroat blasted out of a bunker to six feet but missed his par putt, the bogey lifting Lee within two shots.

Eckroat answered by holing a birdie putt at 16 to restore his three-stroke lead and parred in for the victory.

“I just kept telling myself that I put myself in this position for a reason, it’s what I want to do and I was just happy I was able to perform under the situation,” Eckroat said.

Lee, a three-time European Tour winner who also captured last year’s Asian Tour Macao Open, settled for his best PGA Tour finish. The 25-year-old from Perth improved on his share of fifth at last year’s US Open.

“To finish like that and to start after the rain delay like that, really good moment, and pat on the back,” Lee said. “Was a really proud moment today.”

Knapp, last week’s Mexico Open winner, was third on 13-under after 15 holes but unable to reduce the gap, closing with three morning pars.

“Didn’t hit great golf shots at the restart but I was happy with how I managed everything this week,” Knapp said.

Lowry, the 2019 British Open champion, and Skinns shared the 54-hole lead with Eckroat but could only manage 71s in the final round.

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