A long, complicated, strange week in Saudi Arabia ended as well as it could have, as Harold Varner III (-13) made a walk-off eagle putt on the 72nd hole of the Saudi International on Sunday. Varner beat Bubba Watson (-12) by a stroke to lock up the second professional win of his career in 224 starts.
Varner led going into the final round but was 1 over on the day when he stepped to the par-5 closing hole, one back of new leader Bubba Watson, who was in the house with a round-of-the-day 66. Nobody else on the board really made much noise, so it was only Watson that Varner III needed to tie with a birdie or somehow even leapfrog with an eagle on the finishing hole.
After two shots to the front of the green and facing what would have been a tough two-putt to get into a playoff with Watson, Varner III laid down the hammer of his life and celebrated like he meant it.
The dramatic eagle putt that sealed the victory for Harold Varner III ⛳😍@SaudiIntlGolf @HV3_Golf #SaudiIntlGolf #whereitsAT pic.twitter.com/1RIAI4jIaW— Asian Tour (@asiantourgolf) February 6, 2022
Need more golf celebrations like this one from HV3 today. Strange week ends with a sweet moment. pic.twitter.com/DoNei5wYUE— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) February 6, 2022
The week started with more chatter of rival leagues, and Phil Mickelson -- who finished T18 this week -- sprinkled in talk of the PGA Tour's greed, which added fuel to what has honestly felt like a pretty small fire. Then Bryson DeChambeau withdrew from the tournament with hip and wrist injuries (that he said were from a fall) after rumors that he was offered $135 million to come join the Super Golf League.
All of this was wrapped up in the reality that this golf tournament is funded by the PIF, which is the financial arm of the Saudi government. With the appearance fee rumors floating in the background, it's not difficult to connect the dots that the Saudis are simply trying to sportswash their own perception on a global stage.
So, yeah, we kind of needed a good ending (though that might be the point of sportswashing to begin with), and then we got one.
For some players, this week was all about getting a check and heading back home. For Varner, winning here is a big deal. The field strength at this event this week was 345, which is tantamount to the Valspar Championship or Scottish Open. It's not a major or a big-boy PGA Tour event, but for somebody like Varner, it's a really big deal.
"… This is the best field in the world right now," said Watson. "This is the highest points in the world. So for him to do that, for me to pull out the shots that I pulled out under pressure and then for him to do it, yeah, this is what you want. This is what golf's all about. I'm not mad at him for beating me. I'm happy for him. He's a dear friend of mine, and I applaud him. I love seeing that. I cheer for him."
It's difficult to reconcile the rest of the week with the ending, but Watson said something in there that undergirds all the cognitive dissonance. This is what golf is all about. On one hand, that's completely false. Golf is not all about taking big checks from hostile governments that benefit their geopolitical status more than your own bank account. Golf is, however, all about giving yourself a chance for eagle at the last and letting it drip home for the biggest win of your career (by far).
The lesson, and perhaps the takeaway, from a very odd week is that the golf is always going to win out. The game cannot be bought or contained. Once you think you have figured it out or have its pathway controlled, it eludes you. We have all experienced this on an individual basis, now we're just seeing it play out on a bigger stage. This week was, ostensibly, supposed to be about the Super Golf League. Now it's Sunday, and we're talking about how pure the last putt was.
On a week when all the chatter was about how to solve the sport at the highest level, Sunday's moment of joy was a nice reminder -- which golf often provides -- that the sport itself is much bigger and far more wily than any singular player or league. It does what it wants, goes where it pleases. It is not susceptible to your millions or your contracts. It won't be leveraged for your regimes or your digital portfolio. The game has always been, and always will be, a world unto its own.