Daniel Berger of the US hits a tee shot on the eighteenth hole during practice for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. File photo by Tannen Maury/EPA
Defending champion Daniel Berger capped an improbable comeback to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic by one stroke on Sunday at Memphis, Tenn.
Berger emerged from the pack by shooting a 4-under-par 66 at at TPC Southwind to become the fourth player to successfully defend his title in the event, the first since David Toms in 2003-04.
The 24-year-old Berger finished at 10-under 270 to edge Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Whee Kim of South Korea. He is the fourth player in the last 10 years to win the same event back-to-back for the first two victories of his career.
"There's not many words to describe it," Berger told the Commercial Appeal of Memphis.
On a day when as many as nine players were tied atop the leaderboard, Berger played bogey-free golf to shoot consecutive 66s over the weekend. He was tied for 34th place after 36 holes.
Berger seized the outright lead with his fourth birdie of the day at No. 15 and closed with three pars to clinch his victory.
However, the 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year almost played himself out of contention on the first hole of the day. Berger's chip shot from the right side of the green never made it to the putting surface, but he responded with the "best chip of my life," deftly rolling in the par-saving shot.
"I could have chipped it 100 times and not made it 100 times," Berger said.
Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, surged into contention with birdies on his first three holes. He added two more on the back side to shoot 66.
Kim had a birdie at No. 15 to move to 9 under and into a three-way tie with Berger and Schwartzel before finishing with three pars in his round of 67.
Billy Horschel fired a 64 to finish in a logjam of five players at 272. Among that group was amateur Braden Thornberry (65), Chez Reavie (69), Kevin Chappell (69) and third-round co-leader Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain (71).
Phil Mickelson made a dramatic charge and grabbed a share of the lead following his fifth birdie of the day at No. 10, but he doused his momentum and his chances with a triple bogey at the par-4 12th.
Mickelson wound up with a 68 and finished alone in ninth place at 273.
"It was almost like I was a rookie today because I saw ... I was tied for the lead and it threw me. I didn't expect to be there at that moment," Mickelson said. "That's how non-mentally tough I am right now."