Eyes on Augusta: Harold Varner’s Players Championship showing inches him closer to Masters

Harold Varner III is still eyeing Augusta.

And his play at The Players Championship might’ve just helped him with that.

Varner finished 8-under par for the tournament, tying for sixth place and further pushing his case to join the exclusive field of the Masters.

“Just a long week but obviously I played well,” Varner said after his final round. “It gets me in a better position to get to Augusta. That’s the ultimate goal and that’s what I want to do. Overall a good week. I played some good golf. The nine holes this morning kind of just killed me. But it is what it is, you live, and you learn.”

Varner entered the week at No. 48 in the World Golf Ranking, right on the bubble of the top 50 needed for a Masters invitation, but climbed to No. 40 with his performance at The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

The back nine of his third round were the holes that Varner was referring to. He shot 72 for the entire round but shot 38 on those holes after shooting a 34 on the first nine holes.

Harold Varner III comes off the eighth hole on Sunday at The Players Championship.

He noted earlier in the tournament that his mindset would be the biggest attribute to his success. After shooting his highest score on the back nine in his third round, he shot his lowest score on the fourth with a 33.

Varner had a 2-shot lead going into the 17th hole in the first round, then he triple-bogeyed and bogeyed to close out the round. He went from the top of the leaderboard to tied for 11th by the completion of the round, but he didn’t let that deter him.

He bounced back in the second round, shooting 69 and once again pushing his way near the top of the leaderboard at tied for third.

His score from the third round was the worst of his tournament. He finished at even par and was still tied for eighth.

If his focus fell off when he had the bad end to the first round, he might have a tougher path to Augusta. But his mentality helped keep him steady—even when he had adversity—and he fought through one of the most difficult courses to play on.

More: From watery graves to top of the leaderboard, Doug Ghim's Players surge reflects growth

More: Despite weather extremes and a Monday finish, The Players Championship bounced back in a big way

More: Cameron Smith feeling at home in Ponte Vedra and The Players Championship

More: Players Championship notebook: Shane Lowry, Viktor Hovland draw aces in the third round

After he turned in his scorecard, he said that he wanted to go sign autographs for kids that were screaming for ink or any loose golf balls, tees, towels or hats from each golfer that passed. He laughed it off saying that they weren’t fans, just kids.

But some of them may grow to be.

He’s a Black man signed to Jordan Brand. The Jumpman logo is iconic to a lot of people, especially youth. He brings a different feel to any course that he’s on.

Harold Varner III waits his putt on the 16th hole of the Players Stadium Course Sunday, March 12, 2022 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. Monday marked the third round of golf for The Players Championship. [Brennan Asplen/Florida Times-Union]

He said he doesn’t think about those things. He just tries to be a good human.

“Obviously, the logo travels pretty far,” he said while glancing at the Jumpman logo on his shirt. “I know that at the end of time people are going to be like, ‘Oh, that kid is wearing Jordan.’ Once they get to know me, they’re going to be like, ‘Harold is awesome.’

“Do I think about it? No. You just try to be a human. You’re not perfect. Just love on people.”

Before he signed the autographs, he talked with Mykhailo Golod—a 15-year-old Ukrainian golfer who was evacuated from Ukraine. He noted that Golod’s home was being ravaged by war and he was focusing on making short putts.

The two took photos and Varner spent a few minutes with Golod that he didn’t have to after a long-extended weekend of play.

While he doesn't think about it, his fan base grows with each tournament that he plays well in. And if he makes it to Augusta and has a good showing, there'll be a rise in his fanbase once again.

“I want to get there, I’ve never been to Augusta,” Varner said speaking candidly about his goal. “It’ll be pretty cool, but I’ve got work to do still. It’s a part of it but I can talk about it because the week’s over. Before the week you just want to figure out how to play some good golf.”

Juston Lewis is a sports reporter for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustonLewis_.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Harold Varner eyes Masters after strong Players Championship performance