Golf roundup: Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap wins PGA Tour event despite late pressure

AP photo by Ryan Sun / Nick Dunlap holds his trophy after winning the PGA Tour's American Express tournament Sunday in La Quinta, Calif. Dunlap became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Tucson Open.
AP photo by Ryan Sun / Nick Dunlap holds his trophy after winning the PGA Tour's American Express tournament Sunday in La Quinta, Calif. Dunlap became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Tucson Open.

LA QUINTA, Calif. — Nick Dunlap doesn't possess a false confidence, and he doesn't project a supernatural calm.

The University of Alabama sophomore fully understood just how crazy it was to be fending off a field of professionals Sunday while he tried to become the PGA Tour's first amateur winner in 33 years.

"Most nervous I've ever been, by far," Dunlap said. "Just tried to breathe, but also look up and enjoy it a little bit."

The 20-year-old simply played through it all — through his mistakes, the rising pressure and the overall improbability of his week at The American Express.

Dunlap came out of it with a victory that could herald the arrival of a major golf talent — and one who might not even need to finish the homework he brought with him to the West Coast.

Dunlap swallowed his nerves one last time to make a six-foot par putt on the final hole, holding on for a one-shot victory over South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

"Everybody's got doubts," Dunlap said. "I probably had a thousand different scenarios in my head of how today was going to go, and it went nothing like I expected. I think that was the cool part about it. That's golf."

The reigning U.S. Amateur champion is the tour's first amateur winner since Phil Mickelson at the Tucson Open in 1991. Playing in his fourth tour event, Dunlap became the seventh amateur winner since 1945 and the third since 1957.

The only amateur in the 156-player field in the tournament long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, Dunlap surged into a three-shot lead with a sizzling 12-under-par 60 in the third round. He lost that lead Sunday on the front nine on the Stadium Course at PGA West, but he played with the resilience of a seasoned veteran down the stretch, capped by his recovery from two errant shots on the 18th for the winning par.

"Nothing like I've ever felt. It was so cool to be out here and experience this as an amateur," Dunlap said before describing the last moments of his victory. "Whether I had made that or missed that, if you would have told me Wednesday night I would have a putt to win this golf tournament, I wouldn't believe you."

After a day of back-and-forth competition, Dunlap and Sam Burns were tied for the lead when Burns put his tee shot in the water and made a double bogey on the 17th. Dunlap thought he had a two-stroke lead when he stepped up to the 18th because he and his caddie didn't check the leaderboard or see Bezuidenhout's birdie moments earlier.

Dunlap's tee shot then landed high in the rough, and his second shot might have hit a spectator before it took a fortunate roll from the rough into a grassy drainage area off the green. He got inside six feet with his third shot, and he celebrated the par putt for the title with hugs from his parents, his girlfriend and his college coach, Jay Seawell, who all flew across the country over the weekend to watch in person.

He ended up with a 70 — his worst round of the tournament by far — to finish at 29-under 259 and break the tournament scoring record as a 72-hole event. He's also the youngest winner in the event's history, and he became the youngest amateur to win on the tour since 1910.

Dunlap and Tiger Woods are the only players to win both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Junior Amateur. While Dunlap got the celebration Sunday for one of the most impressive performances in recent golf history, he doesn't get the $1.5 million first-place prize, which goes to Bezuidenhout after his final-round 65.

Chattanooga native Keith Mitchell (62) tied for ninth at 24 under, and fellow Baylor School graduate Stephan Jaeger (72) shared 52nd at 15 under.

McIlroy wins Dubai for fourth time

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Rory McIlroy won the Dubai Desert Classic for a record fourth time, completing a remarkable weekend comeback by reeling in Cameron Young early in the final round, then holding off Adrian Meronk by a stroke.

McIlroy closed with a 2-under 70 to retain the title at a DP World Tour event he first won in 2009 and has captured more than any other in his career. Among his 35 wins as a professional, he had also won the Tour Championship and Wells Fargo Championship three times.

His latest victory at Emirates Golf Club was surely the most unlikely. McIlroy walked to the 18th tee on Friday trailing Young by 11 shots, only to make birdie, shoot 63 on Saturday to get into the final pairing on Sunday, and then wipe out the American's overnight two-stroke lead after just six holes.

McIlroy led by three at the turn after birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 -- two of the toughest holes on the course -- but came under some pressure from Meronk, who made four birdies on his back nine.

The No. 2 player in the Official World Golf Ranking walked down No. 18 leading by one shot, just like at last week's Dubai Invitational, when he was beaten by Tommy Fleetwood, but this time McIlroy didn't lose it as he closed with a tap-in par to finish at 14-under 274 for 72 holes.

Meronk (71), recently crowned as the Europe-based circuit's player of the year for 2023, was alone in second as Young (74) took third.

Slump is over for Ko

ORLANDO, Fla. — It took only four rounds for Lydia Ko to put a dismal 2023 LPGA Tour season completely behind her.

Ko rediscovered her winning touch in the season-opening Tournament of Champions, closing with a 2-under 70 for a two-shot victory over Alexa Pano at Lake Nona.

Ko, who finished at 14-under 274, won for the 20th time on the LPGA Tour. The 26-year-old from New Zealand became the seventh woman to win 20 LPGA titles before turning 27.

"The win is obviously great," Ko said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be back in the winner's circle, and to be back to the first tournament of the season, it's pretty cool and so much faster than I could have ever anticipated."

Ko was winless in 20 LPGA starts a year ago, and she now can resume her quest for entry into the exclusive LPGA Hall of Fame. Ko needs 27 points to get there, and the triumph Sunday put her just one point away. Each regular LPGA win is worth one point.

The 19-year-old Pano, who began the day two shots behind, summoned a late charge to make things interesting, with birdies at three of the final five holes as she matched Ko's round of 70.

Major rewards included

PANAMA CITY — Santiago De La Fuente birdied the last two holes for a 6-under 64 and a two-shot victory in the Latin America Amateur Championship, securing berth in three majors later this year.

De La Fuente became the second Mexican to win in the nine-year history of the event. The senior at the University of Houston rallied from three shots behind Omar Morales, also from Mexico, on a blustery day at Santa Maria Golf Club. Morales closed with a 69.

De La Fuente finished at 10-under 270 and earns exemptions in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

New season, familiar winner

KA'UPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii — Steven Alker won the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship on Saturday for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory and eighth in 54 career starts.

The winner of the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in November in Phoenix, Alker won at Hualalai after finishing second the previous two years. The 52-year-old New Zealander took a two-stroke lead into the final round, then closed with his second straight 9-under 63 for a four-stroke victory over Harrison Frazar (65),

The 42-player field was made up of winners from the last two seasons, senior major champions over the last five years and several players with sponsor exemptions.

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