February 4, 2019

Rickie Fowler Fails to Impress in Winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open

The final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open shaped up to be an interesting and exciting day. The last group featured Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, and Justin Thomas. Rickie had a four shot lead over Matt and five over Justin. Realistically the winner was going to come from that group, so all the drama and intrigue would be right there for us to see. Rickie has problems closing tournaments, so he had something to prove. Matt has been a perennial poor finisher. But this season has been different; could he continue his new found confidence and put pressure on Rickie? Justin was a stud in 2017. Get him close to the lead and he steamrolled the opposition. Could he recapture that form and make Rickie fold again?

The first three days for Rickie Fowler was like a walk in the park. Solid ball striking and phenomenal putting made his rounds look easy. But early on the last day cracks started to appear. He had to make a 30 foot putt for par on 3, made a mess of 5 for a double bogie, and then drove it in fairway bunkers on 6, 8 and 9. However, Matt and Justin were not up to the task either. All shot two over par 37's on the front nine. So the lead was the same. Then a nice birdie on 10 by Rickie and all looked good and comfortable. His lead increased to six and five over Kuchar and Thomas. Then the bizarre 11th hole, another poor drive and a smart layup to 30 yards from the pin. His pitch shot was hit well, but must have hit a hard spot on the green. What looked like a ball that would go 10 to 12 feet by the pin, suddenly rolled just off the green down a slope and into the water. After dropping and placing the ball back in play, the ball moved and rolled back into the hazard while Rickie was on the green surveying this shot. Another penalty shot. (It is the players' responsibility to place the ball back in play, if the ball will not stay in that area, the rules official will determine a spot, no nearer the hole, that the ball dropped and be at rest.) Rickie thought the ball was secure, unfortunately, it wasn't and he incurred another penalty. He then pitched onto the green and holed a 17 foot putt for triple bogie. His big lead was gone and now he was only one ahead of Brandon Grace playing in the group ahead. Another bad shot on the 12th resulting in another bogie and Grace's birdie at 13 and suddenly he was one behind.

Now he could continue to fade into the background, or stand up and take charge. There comes a time when you can't choke anymore. I think he reached that point. He wasn't special down the stretch, but he did hit two exceptional shots that won the tournament. Still one shot behind, he hit the fairway on 15 and needing a near perfect shot, he was able to handle the pressure and hit the green to setup a two putt birdie. This drew him even with Brandon. He got away with an errant 8 iron on 16, but salvaged par. The winning stroke was a clutch tee shot on 17 that found the green and after lagging to 8 feet, made the clinching putt for birdie to give him a two shot lead with one to play. Eighteen was ragged, but enough to secure the victory.

Rickie won and he should be proud of his composure in the face of adversity. Did this quiet his critics? No. He again let a lead disappear. He beat Brandon Grace down the stretch. Good, but Brandon isn't someone that brings fear to your heart when going head to head. He shot a three over 74 in the final round, which is the highest winning last round score ever in the Phoenix Open. He was lucky that he didn't have a proven closer breathing down his neck on the last few holes.

If Tiger Woods had won in this manner, I wouldn't be giving him grief. Reason, he did what he needed to win in the circumstances that presented themselves. Also, he has shown, more times than we can count, that he can handle the pressure and be counted on to deliver when challenged. Rickie has proven otherwise. Rickie won, but he tried to let it get away. I wasn't impressed.

I'm a big Rickie Fowler fan. Love the person and what he brings to the game and the enthusiasm that he generates with the fans. I keep hoping his game can match his hype. Glad he won, but this win didn't convince me that greatness is around the corner.


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