GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Harold Varner III didn’t really know the protocol, so he filled the Australian PGA Championship trophy with champagne, took a sip and then shared it around.
The 26-year-old American won a title for the first time outside the U.S. mini tours when he fired nine birdies in a closing 65 on Sunday to finish at 19 under, two clear of Australian journeyman Andrew Dodt and four ahead of 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott.
He finished runner-up after a playoff here last year, then had four top-10 finishes in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
“After last year, it feels good to come back and finish it off,” he said. “This is my first win since the mini tours, so this is my first win, I guess, as part of an organization such as the PGA Tour, the European Tour. It’s just a step in the right direction and I’m just super excited.”
Varner had a hectic week at the event that is co-sanctioned by the Australasian and European tours. After lightning and rain stopped his first round after 14 holes, he had to set the alarm for 2:45 a.m. Friday to get up in time for an early courtesy car ride to his 5:30 a.m. tee off.
He finished his first round in a share of the lead at 7 under, then went out and finished his second round before lunch on day two. His spare time has included black jack at the Casino where he’s staying, and where he was headed Sunday night. This being his first win abroad, Varner admitted he wasn’t fully across the routine for a champion that included extra interviews, news conferences and photos opportunities.
“I’m ready to get to the casino but no one told me about the other stuff that goes along with winning – which I’m totally cool with – I just didn’t know there was so much stuff. There might have been 1,000 pictures out there,” he told the news conference where he filled the trophy with champagne and shared it around. “Winning is cool.”
Varner started the last round two shots behind Dodt. He surged into the lead with a run of four birdies at the start of an entertaining span of nine holes that contained seven birdies and two bogeys. He took a two-shot lead into the last hole and tapped in for par.
Dodt held a two-shot lead before the final round but couldn’t match it with Varner’s nine birdies and closed with a 69. Scott closed with a 67, his best round of the tournament to finish in outright third at 15 under.
Ashley Hall dropped from second to fourth at 14 under after a final round of 70. His fellow Australian Brett Rumford finished at 10 under, two shots ahead of a group of three that included Dutch golfer Darius van Driel, amateur Brett Coletta and John Senden. New Zealander Ryan Fox was ninth at 7 under.
Scott started the last day four shots off the pace but again was wayward off the tee. He kept in touch with three birdies in four holes from the eighth and added an eagle at the par-5 15th.
“It was my best round of the week and it wasn’t good enough unfortunately,” he said.
The former No. 1-ranked Scott said he planned to put the clubs away for a while and catch up on family time, surfing, and watching some cricket and tennis.
The clubs “will be away for a couple of weeks and if they’re not too rusty by Christmas I might bring them back out and shake some of the rust off,” he said. “I’ll just play around for fun and then I’ll get serious once the new year starts.”
Varner, who is the only player other than Tiger Woods with black heritage on the PGA Tour, is hoping this win is the launching pad for a better 2017.
He was the first American to win the Australian PGA title since Hale Irwin in 1978 at Royal Melbourne, and the first non-Australian to claim the title since 1999.
“Winning is just … different,” he said. “Three years, I haven’t won, so this is special.”