2019 Phoenix Open grades: Rickie Fowler wins after wild back-and-forth Sunday round

USATSI

What portended to be a cruise control victory for Rickie Fowler at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open nearly turned into a Sunday nightmare on the back nine at TPC Scottsdale. Fowler led the event by a comfortable five strokes when he stepped to the par-4 11th tee box. He walked off the green up just one stroke on Branden Grace, who trailed by seven (!) to start the day. Fowler made a triple-bogey seven on that 11th hole that honestly could have been even worse. 

What went wrong? Well, everything, Fowler chipped his third shot into the water and dropped from there. While he was checking out what kind of shot to hit from way below the hole his in-play ball it rolled into the water as well. From there he got up and down for seven as Grace made a birdie just ahead of him on the next hole.

Fowler bogeyed the next hole as well, and it seemed as if all was lost. Maybe it should have been. But a big-stones shot from 251 yards into the par-5 16th and two-putt birdie knotted him up once again with Grace. Then Grace gave Rickie a break. He put his tee shot on the par-4 17th in the water, and Fowler once again had the lead.

This time he kept it for good with a birdie-par finish and 3-over 74 on the day to finish at 17 under for the week, which was good enough (somehow) for a two-stroke win over Grace. 

I'm not sure if it was the greatest bounce back in one nine-hole stretch in the history of golf or the greatest meltdown, but the reality here is that on a day when he clearly did not have the goods, Fowler held the trophy. 

"It wasn't fun," Fowler told Golf Channel after the round. "Other than two holes it was a pretty darn good round of golf. You kind of have to roll with the punches … I'm happy with how we kept moving forward today. Finally we got it done [at this tournament]."

Fowler lost this tournament in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama three years ago and led after 54 holes last year before fading. In a way this year's event was a microcosm of his career. 

Should I feel disappointed because it should have been a lot better than this, or should I be impressed because Fowler stayed steady throughout the entirety of the week? I have no idea, and therein lies the Fowler conundrum.

Maybe this is his formula for winning going forward. Maybe the way for Fowler to win tournaments these days is to build up a four-stroke lead on the field to start the day (which he had) and to crawl his way to the clubhouse. Maybe the best player on the PGA Tour in Round 1s last year has to be the best in Round 2s and Round 3s as well.

Regardless of that answer, Fowler grabbed the fifth win of his long and successful PGA Tour career and his first in nearly two years. It comes on the heels of an equipment change and a winless 2018, and it's a nice reprieve (I think, maybe) as we hurtle toward the Players Championship and Masters just after that. 

It will take maybe until those events to unwind what we saw on Sunday evening, and all I know for sure is that after several years of wrestling this event to the ground, it finally cried mercy. Fowler, after peaks and valleys within the peaks and valleys is the Phoenix Open champ, and no matter how he got there, nobody can take that away. Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the 2019 Phoenix Open.

Justin Thomas (3rd): Thomas had a real chance to walk through the door Fowler opened up for him (and pretty much everyone in the field), but he couldn't find the bottom of the cup over the final two rounds. He lost strokes to the field on both days despite hitting the ball really well. Sunday was especially rough as he managed just one birdie through the first 16 holes despite the tournament turning and being right there for the taking. It's the kind of opportunity I would have expected him to take advantage of, but I remain convinced Thomas is about to hop on a two- or three-month heater. Grade: A-

Hideki Matsuyama (T15): Anybody else would probably get an A-. But Matsuyama has so owned this course that legitimately anything outside of a top-10 finish in Phoenix feels like a disappointment. Even more so following his top-five last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. Grade: B-

Matthew Wolff (T50): He's not on any leaderboards at the end of the week, but his two-round start to the event as an amateur playing in his first PGA Tour tournament was a thrill. The 19-year-old amateur has superstardom written all over him, and this week's 67-70 opener is just a little bit more proof of what's a pretty obvious future for the No. 1 player in college golf. Grade: A-

Phil Mickelson (MC): After an opening 68, Mickelson dropped an on-brand 75 in Round 2 to miss the weekend in his first tournament since a near-win at the Desert Classic two weeks ago. This is probably emblematic of what we're going to see from Mickelson both this year and throughout the rest of his career where he looks like a world beater one week and a weekend warrior the next. Such is life with a nearly-50-year-old superstar already prone to wild swings in performance from round to round. Grade: F

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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