There were plenty of Fourth of July fireworks in Detroit Sunday as Cameron Davis defeated Troy Merritt, and Joaquin Niemann in another marathon playoff to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic for his first PGA Tour title.
Davis first joined the party at 17 under after holing a bunker shot for eagle at the 17th. Davis’ chances looked slim after missing a short par putt at the 16th, but his heroics at 17 put him right back in the game. Another birdie at 18 put him in the clubhouse at 18 under.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 4, 2021
Davis’ momentum from the eagle-birdie finish carried over to the playoff, as his ball striking continued to be a strength in overtime.
The Australian had several makeable putts to win in the playoff but couldn’t convert them, Merritt got up and down from left of the green the first time the playoff went to the par 3 15th, but couldn’t repeat the feat the second time around as a missed par putt gave Davis the win.
Winning your first PGA Tour event is tough enough, but attempting to match the heroics of his finish to regulation was tough for the Australian. But his strong resolve was enough to get him across the finish line.
“It's been hectic ever since the 17th hole for me. I just tried to put as much out of my mind as I could and hit every shot for what it was worth,” Davis said. “As simple as that's said, it's so hard to do when the pressure's on like that. I just kept on putting good swings on it. I guess I didn't make any putts, but I kept on putting it in play, so it worked.”
Niemann picked an inopportune time to make first his first bogey of the week as a five on the first playoff hole eliminated him quickly.
“I didn't have the best number to attack the hole. I went to take a little bit off the wedge and I just double crossed it and that's why it went past the hole,” Niemann said. “Then it was an impossible shot out of the rough back there and almost hit the pin, almost could get pretty lucky there. Then I hit a good putt, it just wasn't enough.”
Merritt and Davis both hit spectacular shots at the par-5 14th on the fourth playoff hole, but neither could convert their eagle chance and the two tap-in birdies sent the pair to another playoff hole.
“You never know when you're going to make a few putts to get yourself back in it,” Merritt said. “We were able to do that on the back side today; unfortunately, we came up just one short.”
Niemann and Merritt began the day tied for the lead, but both were stuck in neutral for most of the day Sunday. Merritt had been flat since his hole-in-one at the 11th in the third round and struggled with his speed on the greens early Sunday, leaving several putts short.
Both players got hot at the right time however, Merritt made birdies at 13, 14, 16, and 17 while Niemann birdied the 10th and matched Merritt’s birdie at the 16th as the final pairing walked to the 17th tee in a four-way tie for the lead with Alex Noren and Hank Lebioda.
Needing another at 18, Niemann had a good look but his birdie putt just missed on the high side.
Merritt wouldn’t go away quietly. After a poor drive, Merritt pitched out but hit a stellar 8 iron to seven feet and drained the putt to match Niemann at 18 under and force a three-way playoff.
Lebioda looked poised to break the tie after knocking his second shot on the green from 258 yards at 17, but made a deflating three putt par after his eagle putt finished just over eight feet short. He had another chance at the 18th but left another putt short and finished in a tie for fourth.
Bubba Watson bounced back from a back nine implosion at the Travelers Championship last week. The two-time Masters champion made the cut on the number and began the day six shots back. Watson went out in 32 and made four more birdies on the back side to shoot 64 and post the early clubhouse lead at 16-under.
“It was a nice way to finish even though I knew they were going to lap the score,” Watson said. “I don't think Niemann's made a bogey all week, so he's going to probably play lights out on the back nine, and then the guy's beating me right now. It wasn't about trying to win, it was just about having a high finish just to get some momentum going forward.”
Alex Noren bested Watson’s mark with a 64 of his own to post 17 under. The Swede made nine birdies and equaled his lowest round on the PGA Tour. Noren gained over three strokes on the greens Sunday. Noren had a good look for his 10th birdie of the day on 18, but left a fast, downhill putt just short.
Noren is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, and he was open about the pressure he felt on the putt at 18.
“I was maybe too defensive on that one,” Noren said. “Thinking too much about I really want this win instead of just giving it a good read and a good putt. You learn.”