Rickie Fowler finally won the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. He defeated Branden Grace by two strokes with a 17-under par 267 on the par 71 layout. It was Fowler’s fifth win on the PGA Tour. It includes a win in the coveted Players Championship, which is sort of a fifth major.
Fowler had to overcome considerable diversity to win today. He has had a past history of folding in the clutch in several tournaments that he led going into the last round.
The last day today, Fowler shot a three-over par 74 in rainy weather. It was not pretty. Rickie had a double bogey on the 6th hole and a bad luck, controversial triple bogey on the 11th hole. It was the first time in PGA Tour history that anyone has ever won a tournament with a double bogey and a triple bogey in the last round.
Fowler had shot blistering scores of 64, 64, and 65 to take a four shot lead into the last round. Matt Kuchar was in second place. Justin Thomas was in third place, one stroke back of Kuchar. All three are in the top ten best players on the Tour right now.
Still, Fowler started the final nine holes with a five stroke lead. On the tough par four 11th hole, his tee shot was barely in the light, right rough. He played his second shot to the right of the green. The pin was tucked back left, with a big lake just behind the elevated green. Rickie made a major miscalculation by pitching his ball a little too far. The ball rolled twelve feet past the hole, over the green, down the slope, and into the water. All he had to do was play safe more to the middle of the green, get an easy five and maybe make a putt for a par.
Instead, he now dropped a ball twice. Due to the slope, the ball rolled too far and into the water hazard. So, the Rules of Golf then allowed him to place his ball on the grassy bank. He did that and then walked up to the green to survey the hole placement. As he was on the green, about thirty feet away from his ball, it came loose from where it was lying and rolled into the water. No one had caused that to happen.
At that point, there was confusion. So, Rickie called for a ruling. PGA Tour official Slugger White arrived on the scene. He said that when Rickie placed his ball on the bank, the ball was “in play.” So, because the ball rolled into the water, and Rickie did not cause that to happen, he was not penalized a stroke for it rolling into the water. However, he then had to take one penalty stroke and drop the ball again. He dropped it twice, and both times it rolled too far and into the water. So, he placed the ball again, just as before. He now had five strokes. He hit his pitch unto the green and made about a 15 foot putt for a seven–a triple bogey.
I have never seen that happen in all of my years of playing pro golf on the PGA Tour its Champions Tour. It was a terrible break for Rickie Fowler. However, I can tell you this, that at least in my day a lot of players and maybe even some Tour officials would have made sure that would not have happened by pushing the ball down somewhat while placing it. The Rules of Golf do not permit that. However, I’m not sure on this one. I think that if the player believes that there is a chance that, when placing the ball, the ball might move, the player may be allowed to push the ball down to get it to stay in place. We’ll probably hear about this over the next few days.
Branden Grace was playing in the pairing right in front of Fowler. When Rickie made his triple, Grace holed a fifty foot birdie putt on the lengthy and tough par three 12th hole. So, there was a swing of four strokes in perhaps seconds or a couple of minutes. Fowler then bogeyed the 12th, and Grace birdied the par-five 15th to take a one shot lead.
Anyway, it all was good for Rickie in that he did a terrific job of maintaining his composure. He knocked it on in two on the 15th to easily two putt for a birdie to tie it up at 16 under. Grace then hit his driver at the par-four 17th, a hole the pros can drive. But he barely hooked it left into the water beside the green and got up and down from the back bunker for a bogey five.
Fowler now had a one shot lead standing on the 17th tee. Fowler has a record of losing this tournament three times. Once, he drove into the water on the 17th hole three times his last three times he played it in that tournament. It was two years ago, when he lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama. But today, he was brilliant. He still played boldly with the driver and drove unto the green for a two-putt birdie to take a two shot lead with one hole to go. Grace had scrambled for his par on the last hole.
Again, Rickie went with his driver on the last hole. It has water left. But Rickie can almost always drive over it. Yet he hooked it left into the picturesque series of sand bunkers with “church pews.” They are narrow lengths of deep rough in the bunkers that are perpendicular to the fairway. He could have had a miserable lie, but it wasn’t awful. He chopped his second shot out of there just short of the green. He then got it up and down for his par four and two stroke victory.
In Rickie’s television interview after the round, he said of his mishap on the 11th hole, “I never want to go through anything like that again. That was not fun.”
Incidentally, Rickie Fowler is a regular member of the PGA Tour Bible Study. I met him two years ago in a restaurant the morning after he lost in the playoff to Matsuyama. We talked briefly about that Christian group. He didn’t know I co-founded it.