In groups before him, Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez got up and down for birdies from the left side of the 18th green.
Brian Harman knew that if he did the same, he’d likely win the Wells Fargo Championship.
When his chip shot barely reached the putting surface, Harman was staring at a missed opportunity and a playoff with at least Johnson and Perez at Eagle Point Golf Club.
Undeterred, Harman simply rolled in the resulting 28-foot putt to capture his second PGA Tour title on Sunday.
“No. 2 is really sweet,” said Harman, who has a wife and young daughter. “No. 1 you can make all these excuses, ‘Oh, is that the only one that’s going to happen’ or whatever. But No. 2 feels really good. I’m going to get home tonight with my family and I’m going to really, really think about this one a lot.”
The birdie on the par-5 18th gave the diminutive lefthander a final-round 4-under 68 for a 10-under 278 total that clipped Johnson and Perez by a shot, denying Johnson his fourth consecutive PGA Tour victory.
“I didn’t hit a great chip. … I did my best there and it didn’t turn out very good, but I guess it was right where it was supposed to be,” Harman said. “Flare for the dramatic, I suppose.”
When the putt dropped, Harman turned and screamed, pumped his arms and gave caddie Scott Tway an emphatic high five before the two embraced for a giddy hug.
“I blacked out. I don’t know what happened,” Harman said. “I can’t wait to watch it. I mean, I have no idea what happened. I don’t know what I did.”
Harman birdied the final two holes for the win, hitting a 145-yard approach to 5 feet on the par-4 17th hole following a 300-yard drive. He had bogeyed the 15th hole with a three-putt following birdies on holes 12 and 14 to reach 9 under.
“I knew it was going to be tough to birdie those last couple, but I stuck to my game plan and just did it, did the best I could,” Harman said.
The win is Harman’s second in six seasons on the PGA Tour, his first coming at the 2014 John Deere Classic, and comes in his 172nd PGA Tour event.
“It’s very hard to stay patient because you know what it feels like to win, you know what it takes,” Harman said. “You feel like you’re capable of it but it just doesn’t happen, and then it doesn’t happen again and it doesn’t happen again, and then that’s where the doubt starts to creep in. So this one feels very good.”
Harman, 30, a Savannah, Ga., native who played at Georgia, is listed at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds and ranks 113th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, and he believed the 7,400-yard course would play to the advantage of longer hitters because of the deep location of some downslopes in fairways.
“I knew I was going to have to really have a good game plan to compete this week,” said Harman, who on Sunday missed only one fairway off the tee and four greens in regulation. “I knew that if I could hit a bunch of greens and putt it well that I would still have a chance.”
The win gives Harman four top-10s this season, including a tie for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge in January and tie for ninth at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island last month, where he was within a shot of the lead in the final round.
“It’s a lot of emotion, for sure,” Harman said. “I’ve been fighting really hard. I thought I had a good chance a couple weeks ago at Harbour Town, really wanted that one. I’ve been working really hard. This feels really good.”
Harman has now shot in the 60s in 10 of his 12 final rounds this season. “I think that’s just having a little more belief in myself and just trusting that I’m pretty good at what I do and just trying to stay in the moment and do the best that I can,” he said.
Harman made the turn 1 under for the final round and shot a 33 on the back nine. He birdied the par-5 12th with a 60-yard pitch to 6 feet and par-4 14th with an 8-iron to 3 feet from 176 yards before his three-putt on 15 with a missed 4-footer.
Johnson, who was trying to join Byron Nelson, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Jack Burke Jr. as the only players with at least four straight PGA Tour victories, found himself alone atop a crowded leaderboard when others stumbled on the back nine.
Five players held at least a share of the lead on the back. But Perez made a double bogey on the 14th hole, Harman bogeyed 15, Jon Rahm played his final six hole 1-over after reaching 9 under, and 54-hole leader Patrick Reed bogeyed four holes in a six-hole stretch to shoot a 40 on the back nine and drop into a tie for 12th at 5-under 283.
Reed was joined in the final group by Alex Noren of Sweden, who fell out of contention with a 77.
In a three-way tie for the lead after his birdie on 17, Harman switched from a 5-wood to a 3-wood for his 271-yard shot into the 18th green. His shot went left and a little long and his ball bounced off a corporate chalet.
“I was like, ‘If my ball’s on the downhill slope, I’m not going to go for it. I’m going to lay up, I’m going to give my wedge a chance to win the tournament,’ ” Harman said. “But it got down that hill and was on a little bit of an upslope and I was like, ‘Well, there’s no decision here.’ ”
Harman received a drop from the chalet but his chip was made more difficult by a tree limb that made him go fairly low. “I really needed to go vertical with it. I had a good lie to go vertical with it and it would have been no problem, but I couldn’t keep it up underneath those limbs, so I was kind of caught in between,” Harman said.
Rahm stood in the 18th fairway and watched the eruption around the green as Harman’s putt dropped in the hole, and knew he needed an eagle to force a playoff. The PGA Tour rookie from Spain chipped in for an eagle on the final hole to win the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines earlier this year for his first PGA Tour win.
Rahm hit his second shot online but it flew the pin and bounced over the green and he was unable to hole a difficult chip to end the drama.
“I probably hit one of the best 5-woods I’ve hit in my life, probably better than the one at 18 at Torrey,” Rahm said. “The adrenaline, it was just so flushed and it was way longer than I expected.
“We were thinking about eagle even before Brian made that great putt. Congrats to him.”