IRVING, Texas – All Billy Horschel could do was shake his head.
Coming off four straight missed cuts, winless in two-and-a-half years and playing a course he initially didn’t like, Horschel found himself standing on the 18th green at the AT&T Byron Nelson Sunday preparing to go to a second playoff hole with world No. 4 Jason Day.
After a back-nine battle that featured Horschel holing the longest putt of his career and Day pitching in from an awkward lie for birdie, the tournament came down to the Aussie’s 4-foot par putt on the first playoff hole.
Day had just holed a similar putt in regulation, but this time he yanked the putt left for a shocking conclusion to the tournament.
“I had the first putt in regulation, and it did a little bit of left to right and just then it went right to left,” said Day, who was looking for his first win since the 2016 Players Championship. “So, overall it was a pretty good week but obviously disappointed didn't get the win.”
Just like that, Horschel went from competitor to champion as he secured his fourth career PGA Tour title and first since the 2014 Tour Championship.
“He's such a world class player,” Horschel said of Day. “I didn't expect him to miss it. I was expecting to go back to the tee and play the hole again.”
All it took to rekindle Horschel’s game was two simple changes.
Horschel’s coach, Todd Anderson, had been imploring his pupil to switch to a face-balanced putter. Anderson also wanted Horschel to slow his tempo during tournaments. He would hit the ball great at home and during practice rounds, but Horschel’s already speedy swing would get even quicker in the heat of competition.
He added the new putter to his bag last week at TPC Sawgrass, and when he got to Las Colinas for the first time since missing back-to-back cuts in 2011 and 2012, everything clicked for the 30-year-old Floridian.
“It finally got through my thick skull,” said Horschel on Saturday after finishing the third round one stroke behind James Hahn. “That's been great.”
Horschel felt his swing coming together at The Players, but he said a couple bad breaks led to his fourth missed cut in a row.
“I battled all day to try to make that cut and just didn't happen,” Horschel said. “But I walked off that course with a sense of I didn't feel like compared to the previous, the three other missed cuts I had.”
Initially scheduled to go off in twosomes, the final round was delayed by early morning thunderstorms. Officials were forced to send players off Nos. 1 and 10 in threesomes. That meant Day joined Hahn and Horschel in the final group.
The trio delivered an exciting finale at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas. After 35 years, the event will move next year to Trinity Forest, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design south of downtown Dallas.
All three players were tied at 11 under heading into the back nine. Hahn took the lead with birdies at Nos. 10 and 11, but he quickly faded with three straight deflating bogeys.
“Made too many bad decisions on the back nine, led to three straight bogies and that kind of determined the tournament for me,” said Hahn, who finished with a 1-over 71 for third place after nearly holing his approach on 18 that would have gotten him into the playoff.
That left Horschel and Day to battle for the title.
Horschel had just three-jacked 12 and 13, but then he stepped up to a 60-foot birdie putt at the par-4 14th and dropped a bomb.
“It gave me the little kick in the butt to say, ‘Hey, let's not give up on this. Keep grinding it out and see what happens.’”
Day answered on the very next hole by holing a pitch shot from a downhill lie 26 yards off the green. He took a one-shot lead over Horschel heading to the reachable par-5 16th.
But instead of Day extending his lead, Horschel counter-punched with a clutch two-putt birdie from 44 feet, while Day’s birdie try from 8 feet came up short.
They exchanged pars on 17 and 18, and Horschel nearly won the tournament with a birdie on the first playoff hole, but his attempt ran out of gas.
When Day missed his par putt, Horschel shook his head in disbelief. After all, he lost in a similar fashion in November at the RSM Classic. Horschel was part of a five-man playoff, but he was eliminated when he shoved a 2-foot putt to the right.
Now, he’s a champion again.
“I knew the stuff I was doing at home was the right stuff,” Horschel said. “I knew the stuff I was doing in early weeks of tournaments was the right stuff. I just had to keep believing in it and keep believing that, you know, in tournament golf that I've done this stuff I needed to do that week to play well. Sometimes I just didn't have that belief I needed.”