by Kevin Sylvester
I am glad Rickie Fowler finally won the WMPO, but it wasn’t easy. His record is littered with “failures” to convert 54 hole leads into victories. I put failures in quotation because putting yourself in contention on a regular basis, being the guy that everyone is chasing after three rounds, and just plain winning on the PGA Tour is extremely difficult. The pressure is immense given all the rewards, exemptions, and opportunities winning provides.
Fowler won, but it wasn’t easy. The weather conditions contributed to what was a tough day on the golf course. Forecasted rain was supposed to clear out by noon time (about 4 holes into his round), but instead hung around and intensified at times during the day. A good excuse for an okay round, but he shot +3 and still won. Fowler defied stats by making a double and triple bogey during the round and won. That doesn’t happen, except for a day like Mother Nature provided for the final round at TPC Scottsdale.
The big snafu’s happened on holes 5 and 11. He was trying to be accurate and protect the lead all day (so it seemed) and hit a lot of driving irons off the tee. It got him into trouble, offline on both holes. It was really the second shot on the 5th that traveled left beyond the gallery, and double bogey was the result with a tough hole location in the back left. But the hole everyone will talk about is the 11th. He missed the fairway off the tee and his second shot finished short and right of green. The hole location was back left, not far from the edge and a slope that was closely mown towards the water. Fowler played a low pitch that ran out too far and trickled down the slope into the water. Unthinkable! After two attempts at the drop staying dry, he was allowed to place the ball. With the ball to rest on the turf, he walked up to look at the green. While he did that, the ball started rolling and didn’t stop until it found the bottom of the lake.
The ball was in play as soon as he placed it on the turf. Had the ball stayed dry, he would have played from where it lied, But since it was wet, he had to take another drop and take a one stroke penalty. Seem fair. Maybe not, but it’s the rule. Fowler made a triple 7 and followed that up with a bogey on the next hole to surrender the lead to Branden Grace who birdied 12 and 13.
Give Rickie credit, he show grit and fought back with birdies at 15 and 17 to win by 2. The approach on 15, over water to an island green from 247 yards was pretty spectacular. He hit another great shot off the tee on 17, erasing the pulled tee shot from a few years ago that haunted him. He finished with a great par from a bad tee shot on 18 to gain his fight victory on the PGA Tour. I believe his experience and calm amidst the storm carried him through.
Branden Grace hit one bad shot on the day and it cost him dearly. With a share of the lead on 17, he pulled his tee shot left and paid the price with the ball going into the water short and left of the green. He still had an opportunity to make par, but had to get up and down. His long pitch, his 3rd shot, ran to the back right of the green on a good line, but with too much pace. The ball ran off of the green an into a bunker. He quickly climbed in, hit the shot and almost made it. The bogey dashed his hopes of winning or at least having a chance in a playoff.
I interviewed Grace after the round and he was in good spirits. He was pleased with his overall play, a good week and fun event. He admitted it was a bad shot and he was trying to make up for it.
-The Phoenix Open is unlike any other tournament on the PGA Tour. It’s a party, a big party. I love the 16th hole. There are sixty thousand people on one hole, 3 stories high, having a great time and providing energy to the players. It’s unique and fun.
-A tip when buying golf shoes. Water resistant is not water proof. I have both, but packed the wrong ones because when does it rain in the desert?
-Ted Scott, Bubba Watson’s caddie, does most of the work reading putts. Bubba give Scott a ton of credit in interviews and it was interesting seeing just how much Watson trusts him. There were times (I followed Bubba for three rounds) Bubba barely looked and just putted the line Scott saw. He made many of those. They have been and will likely remain a great team.
-I usually pack a few snacks to take with me out on the course when I’m working, but failed to do so on Sunday for the final round. Knowing I needed something, I ran to a concession stand and grabbed a Snickers Bar (I was becoming Betty White–the best Super Bowl commercial in recent years). The cost = $3! It was a regular Snickers bar. I needed it, but that’s ridiculous.
-For those of you that complain about the cost of beers at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, it’s the same at the arena the Suns play in. I went to the Suns/Hawks game Saturday night and enjoyed the game, but $23 for a beer and a slice of pizza was exorbitant.
-I will never forgive the Patriots for not kicking a field goal and going for it on 4th and 1 before half-time of the Super Bowl. You can figure out why.