Collin Morikawa missed a three-foot putt to hand Daniel Berger victory in the PGA Tour’s first event in three months at Colonial Country Club, Texas.
An eerie silence followed the American’s miss as professional golf returned behind closed doors because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The atmosphere during the week was decscribed as “subdued” by Justin Rose and “strange” by Rory McIlroy.
England’s Rose finished on 14 under par, one shot outside the play-off.
He missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th as he posted a four-under-par 66.
Rose’s solid round was in complete contrast to world number one McIlroy, who also started the final round three shots off the lead on 10 under.
The Northern Irishman dropped six shots in his opening nine holes before rallying on the back nine to card a four-over 74 and six under total.
Did social distancing work?
In the main, yes. McIlroy warned at the start of the week that mistakes will be made as they adjust to a new way of playing and to not judge the players too harshly.
The Charles Schwab Challenge was the first of five PGA Tour events taking place behind closed doors in the US and after conceding it was “strange”, McIlroy added: “At the same time I was so concentrated on what I was doing that once I got into it, I didn’t feel like it was much different at all.”
However, there was some noise made by industrious fans whose properties are adjacent to the course. Platforms and small grandstands were erected on private land, so they could see the action.
Their cheers have been heard all week and welcomed by some of the players, with Bryson DeChambeau, who finished alongside Rose on 14 under, saying: “It’s fun to have people rooting for you every once in a while out there. We don’t get that very much right now.”
The lack of crowd noise was hugely noticeable, particularly during the final round with the tension building as players holed birdies and missed par putts in the run in.
But American friends Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth tried to embrace the new regime. They all played together on the opening two days. Thomas frequently raised his hand in mock acknowledgement of the non-existent cheers after holing putts and the trio finished their rounds with ‘air high-fives’.
The absence of huge grandstands that frame many greens allowed television viewers to see more of the course, but they were also treated to some colourful language that may otherwise have been drowned out by spectator noise.
And while social distancing guidelines were in the main reasonably well followed, there were lapses, such as when Varner III signed a ball after finishing his opening round as joint leader. He handed the ball to a woman who gingerly accepted it with her fingertips.
And when Berger won the play-off, he embraced his caddie and exchanged fist-bumps with Morikawa – although by Sunday this looked to have largely become the norm with many players adopting this on the 18th green.
The issue of racial injustice has also been tackled head on this week. The PGA Tour has held a minute’s silence each day at 8.46am local time in memory of George Floyd, the unarmed African American who died after being pinned to the ground for eiight minutes 46 seconds beneath the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Harold Varner III, one of the few black American golfers on the PGA Tour, has been at the forefront of discussing the Tour’s “potential role in the national conversation and solution” amid global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice.
On Friday, there was a small, peaceful protest outside the course but near the fourth green and fifth tee and players could hear chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe”.
Varner III, who jointly led with Rose after round one, finished Friday’s second round as the sole leader. But the world number 124 ran out steam over the weekend with a level-par 70 on Saturday and Sunday’s 72 seeing him drop back to nine under.
How the final round panned out
With Xander Schauffele holding a one-shot lead over five players at the start of play, Sunday’s finale was always likely to be tense, and so it proved.
The lead exchanged hands several times and at one point, five players shared the lead.
DeChambeau, who had noticeably bulked up during lockdown, was in the thick of it. He has added 45lbs of muscle to his frame in nine months, 20lbs in the last three.
He drove the ball an average of 345 yards in round one to spark debate as to whether players should use ‘tournament balls’ to limit how far they can hit it.
On Sunday he was again long off the tee but putted even better, and was in a share of the lead on 15 under after 15 holes. However, a bogey on the 17th and a missed birdie putt from 15 feet on the last saw him set the clubhouse lead on 14 under alongside Rose and fellow American Jason Kokrak, who had a six-under 64.
That target was eclipsed by Berger, who, with more illustrious names around him, largely went under the radar. A 10-foot birdie putt on the last saw him post a four-under 66 and 15 under total.
Moments later, Morikawa, who holed a 50-foot putt on the 14th to get to 15 under, had a seven-foot putt on the last to get to 16 under. He dragged his effort left.
That left Schauffele as the only man out on the course who could get to 16 under. He had bounced back from a bogey at the 15th, with a birdie at the 16th to reach 15 under.
A par looked certain at the 17th but his three-foot putt horseshoed around the cup and when he left a 25-foot birdie putt short at the last, his tournament was over.
That left Berger and Morikawa to contest the play-off with the 27-year-old beating the 23-year-old at the first extra hole.
Berger, who has fought back from a wrist injury that threatened to end his career, said: “I grinded so hard to be in this position and I am just so thankful that all the hard work paid off.”