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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Austin Eckroat gets his 1st PGA Tour win by prevailing at Cognizant Classic

    Austin Eckroat hits from the seventh tee during the final round of the Cognizant Classic golf tournament, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

    Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. — Austin Eckroat waited a long time to become a winner on the PGA Tour. Another day didn’t hurt.

    Eckroat got the first victory of his tour career Monday, topping Erik van Rooyen and Min Woo Lee by three shots to win the weather-delayed Cognizant Classic. Among his prizes: $1.62 million — by far his biggest golf payday — along with tour status for two years and a trip to the Masters for the first time.

    Eckroat shot a final round of 4-under 67, finishing at 17-under 267.

    He said he was nervous Monday. He hid it well, never giving up the lead.

    “This has always been my dream to win on the PGA Tour,” Eckroat told Golf Channel. “And just to win, I haven't won since 2019 — it was a college event. It's just been so long. I'm just so happy.”

    He left PGA National on Sunday night when darkness stopped play with a one-stroke lead and was never caught. Back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th holes protected his lead, and a 12-footer for birdie on the par-4 16th pushed the edge out to three shots.

    “I just kept telling myself, ‘I’ve put myself in this position for a reason,’” Eckroat said. “This is what I want to do.”

    Eckroat laid up on the par-5 18th to protect his lead and take water out of play, knowing all he had to do was avoid disaster to finish off his first tour win in 50 career starts. He made an easy par, sealing the win.

    “I was just really happy I was able to perform in the situation,” Eckroat said.

    Van Rooyen had his round of 8-under 63 on Sunday to finish at 14 under. Cameron Young (66), K.H. Lee (66), Shane Lowry (71), David Skinns (71) and Jake Knapp (66) all ended their rounds on Monday, all wrapping up at 13 under. K.H. Lee made three birdies in the five holes he played Monday.

    But nobody caught Eckroat, a 25-year-old who was a star at Oklahoma State before turning pro.

    His most memorable tour moment, before Monday, likely was last year in the final round of the U.S. Open to become the sixth player in that tournament's history to post a nine-hole score of 29. Eckroat shot a 5-under 65 and finished in a tie for 10th at 3 under — ensuring he'd play in this year's U.S. Open.

    The season's first major awaits him now as well. He's going to Augusta National next month, with stops at Bay Hill and The Players along the way to Magnolia Lane.

    “The adversity of sleeping mid-round, I’m just really happy with how I handled it,” said Eckroat, who became the fourth first-time winner in nine tour events this season, joining Nick Dunlap, Matthieu Pavon and Knapp.

    For Knapp, last week’s winner in Mexico, he’s now had three top-five finishes in his 10 career PGA Tour starts. His earnings are up to about $2.5 million.

    “I was happy with how I managed everything this week,” Knapp told Golf Channel.

    The Monday finish was needed after a thunderstorm dumped nearly 2 inches of rain and brought lightning to the area Sunday afternoon, causing a 3½-hour delay in the final round. Of the 68 players who made the cut, 42 finished on Sunday — so 26 returned on Monday to play somewhere between one and 13 holes.

    It was a quick day for Billy Horschel. He couldn’t get to the 18th tee before the horn blew to stop play on Sunday night, meaning he had to come back and play the par-5 finishing hole on Monday. He had a 9-footer for birdie, settled for par and was done in 15 minutes.

    Horschel — who vaulted into the mix with six consecutive birdies on Sunday afternoon — finished at 12 under. He ended up tied for ninth, along with Keith Mitchell, Peter Malnati, Alex Noren, Andrew Novak, Kevin Yu and Martin Laird.

    Austin Eckroat looks at his shot on the sixth green during the final round of the Cognizant Classic golf tournament, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
    Min Woo Lee, of Australia, lines his shot on the third hole during the final round of the Cognizant Classic golf tournament, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

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