Golf: American Varner's breakthrough win in Australian PGA after 2015 heartbreaking play-off loss

Harold Varner III looking on during the final round of the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines, Gold Coast, on Dec 4, 2016.
Harold Varner III looking on during the final round of the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines, Gold Coast, on Dec 4, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

GOLD COAST, Australia (AFP) - American Harold Varner III claimed his first professional victory at the Australian PGA Championship on Sunday on the Gold Coast by two strokes.

The 26-year-old, who lost in a three-way play-off in last year's event, fired rounds of 65, 72, 67 and 65 for a total of 19-under 269.

He prevailed on the final day with nine birdies in a seven-under round to beat Australian overnight leader Andrew Dodt to win the European Tour co-sanctioned golf tournament at the Royal Pines Resort.

Dodt, who led for three rounds, finished with a 69 to take outright second on 271.

World No. 7 and 2013 Augusta Masters champion Adam Scott carded his best round of the week, a 67, to finish in third place on 273.

Varner came closest to winning his first top-level pro event when runner-up after a three-way play-off with Dylan Frittelli and eventual 2015 champion Nathan Holman a year ago.

"I just wanted to find a way to birdie every hole," he said. "After last year it feels good back to come back and finish it off."

Varner, ranked 184 in the world, posted four top-10 finishes last season with more than US$1.3 million (S$1.85 million) in prize money.

But he said none of that compared to his breakthrough Australian victory.

"Obviously top-10s you get money but it's just hard to win. I don't care where you tee it up... this is pretty special," he said.

The A$250,000 (S$264,650) winner's cheque also gave him entry to the WGC's Bridgestone Invitational next year in his home town of Akron, Ohio, as well a two-year exemption onto the European Tour.

Varner, starting two shots behind overnight leader Dodt, hit the front on the eighth, but then bogeyed the 14th to go back into a tie for the lead.

However, birdies on the 15th and 17th edged him clear despite Dodt going bogey-free and three under in the final round.

Australian Ashley Hall was fourth on 14-under with compatriot Brett Rumford fifth on 10-under.