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Erik van Rooyen rallies on back nine, eagles 18th to win in Mexico

Erik van Rooyen rallies on back nine, eagles 18th to win in Mexico
epa10599092 South African golfer Erik Van Rooyen in action during the third round of the Mexico Open at Vidanta, at the Greg Norman golf course in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco state, Mexico, 29 April 2023. EPA-EFE/Francisco Guasco

Erik van Rooyen drained an eagle putt at the par-5 18th hole for an emotional, come-from-behind win at the World Wide Technology Championship on Sunday in Los Cabos, Mexico.

The native of South Africa fired an 8-under 28 on the back nine to overtake the field and post a 9-under 63. He recovered from a round-opening bogey to make eight birdies on the day — six coming on the back nine.

van Rooyen was tearful on the 18th green as he spoke of his best friend, Jon Trasamar, who is fighting terminal cancer. Trasamar and van Rooyen were college golf teammates at Minnesota.

“I’m 33 years old and I’ve got two kids now. That gives you perspective,” van Rooyen said. “Then when something like this happens where your best friend who was best man in my wedding, what’s it, nine years ago now, when he’s hit with melanoma, it puts things in perspective while golf doesn’t really matter.”

van Rooyen said on the Golf Channel broadcast that he will visit Trasamar Tuesday morning. He also pushed back on the notion that he was able to remain focused on golf all week.

“It dragged me down,” he said. “After Friday’s round … I get to my hotel room and I just break down in tears, you know? It wasn’t that calm all the time but when I step onto the golf course I’ve got a freaking job to do. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day, do your job.”

van Rooyen made 25-foot birdie putts at Nos. 16 and 17 to tie Matt Kuchar for the lead at 25 under, with Camilo Villegas of Colombia at 24 under rounding out their threesome. van Rooyen was the first to play his second shot at No. 18 and nestled it up on the green to 15 feet. Villegas’ shot landed just inside van Rooyen’s ball, while Kuchar missed left.

After Kuchar pitched onto the green, van Rooyen was first to putt and swept it straight in, allowing him to escape his playing partners’ reach at 27-under 261. Villegas settled for birdie and Kuchar for par, tying them for second at 25-under 263.

Kuchar and Villegas were the 54-hole co-leaders, with van Rooyen starting the day one stroke back. Both Kuchar and Villegas shot 66 Sunday.

“It’s a funky game and it’s never over until the fat lady sings,” van Rooyen said. “No. 18 kind of owed me one, I was 2 over going down 18 before today so I knew if I could just stay in it and hang tight, make a few putts. You know, it went my way today.”

The win will vault van Rooyen from No. 125 to No. 63 in the FedEx Cup Fall standings, making him all but a lock to retain his card for next year. It’s his second career PGA Tour win; he won an alternate-field event, the Barracuda Championship, in 2021.

The World Wide Technology Championship was played at El Cardonal at Diamante, the first Tiger Woods design to host a PGA Tour event.

Kuchar, who was seeking his 10th career win on tour, said he played “71 really good holes” of golf this week before settling for par at the 72nd.

“I’m pretty bummed. You come out with a great chance to win a golf tournament and the goal is to win a golf tournament,” Kuchar said. “But I hold my head held high. Erik played incredible golf.”

Villegas also had high praise for van Rooyen.

“I hit a great second shot (at No. 18). Erik hit a great second shot, too,” Villegas said. “I was happy he was going to give me a read. Like I said, I was just hoping he’d give me a chance, but he rolled it down the middle, it was a perfect putt he hit.

“That’s the way golf goes. Overall it was a very positive week, a lot of good.”

Justin Suh shot a final-round 65 to finish fourth at 24 under. Andrew Putnam matched the low round of the day with a 10-under 62, vaulting him into a tie for fifth at 22 under with Ryan Palmer (64 on Sunday).

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