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Finishes with low score in clubhouse, one back of Austin Eckroat, who has 11 to play

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla – Erik van Rooyen thought he shot himself out of the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches on Saturday when he bogeyed the par-5 18th to drop to 6-under.

His caddie Alex Gaugert was quick to lighten the mood. His message: “You don’t know what’s going to happen, you might birdie the first seven tomorrow.”

Van Rooyen almost did.

The South African birdied his first six holes on Sunday and added another at the par-4 eighth to card a front-nine 28 at PGA National’s Champion course. He birdied the par-5 10th to take the outright lead at 14-under. Van Rooyen suddenly had thoughts of posting a really low number and giving the leaders something to worry about.

The weather had other thoughts. 3 1/2 rain delay stifled van Rooyen, who played the final seven holes in even par after play resumed. When the round was suspended Sunday night, van Rooyen held the low score in the clubhouse, 14-under, but had just a 2.5% chance to win, per TOUR projections. Austin Eckroat was 15-under through seven holes when play finished, with seven others within three shots.

“I’ve got no expectations,” said van Rooyen, who carded a 63. ”If I’m within two and those boys are walking up to 15th tee box, I’ll be here.”

That van Rooyen got himself in that position was a testament to his short memory and a hot ball-striking start. He opened the round with a 7-foot birdie on the par-4 first, then drained birdie putts of 10, 13, 9, 12 and 6 feet on the next five holes. The streak ended at the seventh. Van Rooyen hit his approach on the 237-yard par-3 to 22 feet but missed the putt on the low side. He hit his closest approach of the day on the par-4 eighth, sticking his second shot to within 4 feet for another easy birdie. When the horn blew, van Rooyen was in the middle of the 12th fairway, 8-under for the day.

“Yeah, it’s hard. The greens were so much slower coming back. There are so many little adjustments you need to make,” he said. “But I want to call myself a pro golfer, I need to be able to adapt to that. I’m really, really pleased with today’s round.”

Van Rooyen was in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th with a reasonable chance to push his round even deeper. An eagle would have tied the course scoring record of 61 and moved van Rooyen to 16-under. But the closing hole gave the 34-year-old fits, as it had all week. He blew his approach shot left of the green and could not get up-and-down for birdie. He did not make birdie at 18 all week.

Regardless of where van Rooyen finishes, it will likely be his best finish of the season. The 2023 World Wide Technology Championship winner has made the cut in six of seven events this season; his first top-10 came at last week’s Mexico Open at Vidanta (T8) and he entered the week 42nd in the FedExCup.

Whether he can better that is out of his hands. With trouble lurking at every turn at PGA National, van Rooyen will hope the wind kicks up and the pressure takes over for the remaining field on Monday.

All that’s left for van Rooyen is to decide whether to wait for the final round to finish at PGA National or head to Seminole Golf Club, where he was invited for the prolific member-guest.

“I’ve got a phone call to make,” van Rooyen said. “I’m not quite sure how I’m going to handle that yet, but honestly, we’ll see.”