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Harold Varner III drains thrilling walk-off eagle putt to win Saudi International

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For a moment it appeared as if Bubba Watson’s birdie-eagle finish would earn him at least a spot in a playoff Sunday at the Saudi International.

But Harold Varner III had other plans.

Varner stole the show at the end by playing his final two holes in 3 under, capped by a dramatic eagle make from just the off the green at the par-5 closing hole at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, to notch the outright victory.

"I'm just trying to take it in," Varner said afterward, still gathering himself after the thrilling finish.

The 54-hole leader, Varner was leaking oil amid gusty winds coming in, double-bogeying the par-4 14th and then dropping another shot at the par-3 16th hole. Watson, meanwhile, got in the clubhouse at 12 under and waited as the final pairing finished up.

"I walk up to 17, and we're tied. We have to wait until they get off the green. While we're on the tee, I see he goes to 12, so I'm like, damn, all right, so I'm two back," Varner said. "I'm like, just get something up there, give myself a chance to make birdie. 18, you know, obviously anything can happen.

"I just never doubted myself. I never questioned that, hey, we can't win this. I think that's what the greats do. I would think a couple years ago I would have had a hard time taking that in and being like I have to do this."

After a birdie at No. 17, Varner's second shot into the last green came up a few feet short of the putting surface – about 92 feet, according to Varner's caddie, Chris Rice – though Varner opted to putt anyway. A good lag would give Varner a solid look at birdie and playoff with Watson. An improbable eagle make would end it there.

Varner pulled off the improbable, immediately dropping his putter and pumping his fists before Rice jumped into Varner's arms in celebration.

Varner drains eagle to win PIF Saudi International

Varner drains eagle to win PIF Saudi International

"When I was coming down the hill ... worst-case scenario, we'll go to a playoff and I'd get him there," Varner said. "And then it went in, and emotions came out. I love that. When I play with my boys, that's the emotion I want to see. That's why you play. Competition, it's the greatest thing in the world."

Watson then sprinted down to the green to congratulate Varner, whom he hung out with a lot off the course this week. The 43-year-old Watson was searching for his first win since the 2018 Travelers. The 31-year-old Varner, ranked No. 99 in the world at the start of the event (six spots better than Watson), has still yet to win on the PGA Tour, but his win Sunday added to his only other professional victory, another international triumph, at the 2016 Australian PGA.

It also moves him inside the top 50 in the world for the first time.

"I was wanting that," said Varner, who had risen as high as No. 74 following a T-2 at last year's RBC Heritage. "That is awesome. I was wondering that. Yeah, that's the goal, man. That gets you in the things that I haven't played in. I've played in some big events here and there, but yeah, that's why we play.

"I was on the cusp of it after Hilton Head and didn't execute, played a lot of golf. Frickin' A. That's all I wanted to know when I was sitting out there."

Full-field scores from PIF Saudi International

Varner, though, doesn't plan on changing his approach. He said he'll still be just as confident next time he tees it up as he was entering this week. He also was unapologetic for his habit of casually cursing. And when asked what he'd say to anyone who downplayed his Saudi win because it didn't come on the PGA Tour, Varner responded bluntly.

"I don't have to explain anything to anybody," Varner said. "That's what's awesome about competition. I don't mean it like that, but I really don't have to express anything. You either want to play and you go play or you don't. I wanted to play, and I showed up, and they gave me a trophy."

Whether he beat 50 top-100 players or zero, Varner won. That's all he cared about.

He just also happened to do so in show-stopping fashion.