It wasn’t easy for Rickie Fowler on Sunday at the Honda Classic. And then it was. And then it wasn’t again. Closing out big leads is sometimes more difficult mentally than coming from behind to win tournaments, and Sunday tested Fowler’s mettle. He shot a 1-over 71 in tough (but not absurd) conditions to win by four over Gary Woodland and Morgan Hoffmann.
Fowler played the first six holes in 2 over and saw his four-stroke lead coming into the day dwindle to just a couple over Woodland and a handful of other players. Then he sprayed a drive on the par-4 eighth hole into the pine straw. It was not dire, but it was not looking great for Fowler who was looking for his first PGA Tour win since the end of 2015.
Then he got up and down for birdie (!) from 160 yards out.
Of course, he bogeyed the next hole and the lead shrank to one over Woodland going to the back nine. Fowler, who had destroyed the field with his driver all week, could not find a fairway. He lost a stroke to the field in the final round off the tee after gaining one or more in each of the first three days.
The bogey at No. 9 was the last one he would make until the tournament was under wraps. Fowler put away a couple of pars before sticking a fork in the field with two huge putts at Nos. 12 and 13. Combined feet of the two birdies: 62.
“My putter saved me,” Fowler told NBC’s Steve Sands afterwards. “I made some good putts. It was tough out there today. I fought as hard as I could. I felt like I hit a lot of good shots I thought were going to turn out good. A few of those putts I made -- on No. 8 and 12 and 13 -- if I don’t make those putts, I make a pretty tight race.”
Fowler finished second in the field in putting for the week after gaining nearly three (!) strokes on the field average on a day in which he shot 71. Translation: He putted out of his mind.
There comes a time in every one of these events where the dagger must be inserted, though. Where you must leave no doubt about who will raise the trophy. Sometimes that comes on the final putt. With Tiger sometimes you knew on Saturday evening. This Sunday with Fowler it came on the 16th hole. From 182 yards away, Fowler stuck it to three feet.
End the fight.
“That one was nice,” said Fowler. “This was a hold 5-iron from about 183, I believe. And I mean, it was perfect. It was almost in gimmie range.”
Fowler needed a par-par finish to set the 72-hole scoring record. Instead, he went bogey-bogey but still won by four over Woodland and Hoffmann.
“I would have liked to have a little bit cleaner card today and played a little bit better,” said Fowler. “But just to be in the position and going out and get the job done, and finding a way no matter how it is; a win is a win.”
Now, Fowler has four of them in his PGA Tour career. He has gone over $25 million in career earnings, and he joins a ridiculous list of 2017 winners. Justin Thomas (twice), Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and now Fowler have all won tournaments this year. It’s only February 26th!
8 PGA Tour events in 2017...— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) February 26, 2017
7 won by players in 20s
Average age: 25.5
Top-15 in world at time of win: 5
This is also the first time Fowler has ever closed out a 54-hole lead. He is one for five in his career. All of his other wins have been from behind.
“It feels great to finally get the goose egg out of that stat is nice,” said Fowler. “It wasn’t easy. I saw Gary was coming out, trying to make a late kind of run there, and kind of I just had to hold on.
“This is a good one: To have it this early in the season; to come off some not great starts, but then to play well in Phoenix and to build on that these last two weeks and then ultimately come here and get the job done. I’m looking forward to going from here and obviously Augusta just around the corner.”Grade: A+
Wesley Bryan (T4): Back-to-back top-five finishes for the former trick-shot artist who got to show off some of his skills earlier in the week. I was impressed by Bryan’s rebound after shooting his way out of the tournament a little bit on Saturday. He fired back with an even-par 70 on Sunday that could have been even better (he doubled No. 16 on the way home). He will win sooner rather than later, and these last two weeks have been proof. Grade: A
Justin Thomas (MC): After winning his first two tournaments of 2017, Thomas has gone missed cut, T37 and missed cut this week at PGA National. I don’t want to make more of it than it is (lots of guys miss two of three cuts), especially considering he only missed this cut by one stroke. But I’m sure Thomas would love to get it rolling again with just five weeks left before the Masters. Grade: F
Adam Scott (T14): In his title defense this week, Scott only shot one round over par (a 71 on Saturday), but he never truly got in the mix with the leaders. Scott was undone by the very instrument he’s used so successfully all year. The No. 1 putter on the PGA Tour coming in, Scott finished outside the top 50 this week with the flat stick. Grade: B-
Sergio Garcia (T14): Weird week for Garcia. He had impressive rounds of 68 and 66 but also shot two rounds over par, both of them 71. Garcia still has one of my favorite shot trajectories in the sport, but he putted terribly all week (outside the top 60). I think he’ll have a terrific year. He’s consistently turned into one of those guys whose bad weeks are still top 20s because of the way he strikes it. Grade: B