PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – True to his college degree, Michael Thompson looked like an accounting student in a classroom full of star athletes.
The Honda Classic was the first 72-hole event on the PGA Tour that featured Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who both made news for the wrong reasons. McIlroy walked off the golf course after eight holes of the second round under suspect circumstances that even Jack Nicklaus couldn't defend. Woods hit a tee shot so far right that he couldn't find it, one of two double bogeys in his closing round of 74 that put him in the middle of the pack.
And even though Thompson never lost the lead Sunday at PGA National, the fans paid more attention to the bigger names playing in front of him, whether it was Lee Westwood and Geoff Ogilvy in the group ahead, or Rickie Fowler, who was hard to miss, dressed in Popsicle orange.
But there was no mistaking the golf Thompson played when he closed with a 1-under 69 for a two-shot victory, his first PGA Tour title.
"Everybody wants to see the marquee players, the guys who are exciting or wear the bright clothes and all that," Thompson said. "I'm not a flashy player. I'm not dramatic or anything like that. I just kind of plod along, make my pars, eliminate the big mistakes and make a few birdies here and there. If I keep doing that and I stick to that game plan, I'm going to have a great career."
He gladly settled for a great Sunday on another windswept day in south Florida, in conditions so demanding no one shot better than 68 in the final round and only five players managed to break par.
Thompson seized control when he rolled in a 50-foot eagle putt on the third hole, and he thrived on a sense of calm in a wild front nine that also included three bogeys, two birdies and only three pars. He relied on his superb short game to make three par saves in a dangerous five-hole stretch to start the back nine, and he stayed true to the motto of the Alabama golf team: "Finish strong."
Leading by one shot over Ogilvy, with the flag some 240 yards away on the other side of a lake, Thompson drilled a 5-wood into the left bunker to set up a simple shot that settled about 4 feet for a birdie he didn't even need.
"This week was magical," Thompson said. "Just had a groove and kept feeling it."
He finished at 9-under 271 and his outlook was as bright as the afternoon sunshine. Thompson moved to No. 45 in the world ranking to secure a spot in his first World Golf Championship this week at Doral. Already in the Masters and U.S. Open because of his runner-up finish in the U.S. Open last year, he also gets into the PGA Championship, and two more WGC events the rest of the year. And he gets to start the season in Hawaii at the Tournament of Champions.
Sunday was a day when others had reason to claim the consolation prize.
By one shot, Ogilvy missed ending last year in the top 50 in the world ranking, which would have assured him a spot in the Masters. He missed four straight cuts on the West Coast and his ranking plunged to No. 79. He missed the Match Play Championship last week. He figured he had no chance of making the field at Doral. And the Masters was looking more and more like a long shot.
But he opened with 13 straight pars and finished with flair. From behind the 16th green, his chip hung on the left edge of the cup and dropped for an unexpected birdie, and then his 65-foot eagle putt came up just short and gave him a 69 to finish alone in second place.
That moved the Australian to No. 47 in the world and got him into Doral, which he won five years ago. It was a start toward getting back to Augusta National.
"I kind of penciled in a week off," Ogilvy said. "So it's nice, and it gets me back in the mix for the Masters."
Ogilvy has to stay in the top 50 by the end of the month to return to the Masters. For now, he has smaller problems. He only packed enough for this week.
"I'm going to have to go do some laundry," Ogilvy said. "I haven't got a hotel room for tonight. But half the tour lives in this area, so I'm sure I can find somewhere to stay."
Luke Guthrie, who was tied for the 54-hole lead with Thompson, fell back with a bogey on the second hole and never caught up. His tournament effectively ended with a tee shot out-of-bounds on No. 14 that led to double bogey, though he closed with a birdie for a 73 to finish alone in third.
Erik Compton, who has received two heart transplants, hit his approach in the water on the 18th and made bogey but still tied for fourth, his first top-10 finish on tour.
There was no moral victory for Woods.
He lost ground on Saturday with a tee shot that plugged into the bank on the 17th and was never found, leading to double bogey. Woods could not recall losing two balls in one round, and he lost two in a span of eight holes at PGA National. His drive on No. 6 sailed so far right that it wasn't found until his five minutes were up and he was back to the tee box to hit his third shot. Woods made double bogey there, another double on the 11th with a shot into the water, and a drive into the water on 16th for bogey.
He closed with an eagle, just like last year, only this time it wasn't to complete a 62 for a second-place finish. He had a 74 to tie for 37th, the first time since the Masters last year that he failed to break par in any of the four rounds.
"I just made too many penalties this week," Woods said. "Today is a perfect example. I didn't play that poorly. I had two water balls and a lost ball. Take those away, and I missed two short birdie putts, and it was actually a decent score. So just got to clean up my rounds."
Whether Thompson made a name for himself remains to be seen. But he sure impressed Ogilvy.
"You don't have to do much wrong to be making a bogey out there, so it's pretty impressive," Ogilvy said. "It's a great effort, really. As you see by the rest of the scores, it's a very hard golf course and it seems to get progressively harder in some ways. There's a disaster waiting everywhere.
"There's a lot of golf courses on tour that it might be easy to close out a golf tournament — or easier — but this is not one of them."