Rickie Fowler does not make anything easy. It just isn’t his style.
The extraordinarily popular 30-year-old’s final round at TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open included a triple-bogey, a double-bogey, multiple penalty shots, a blown five-stroke lead, and nearly six strokes lost to the field tee-to-green.
Yet, the end result was Fowler’s fifth career PGA Tour victory.
A brilliant bounce-back after a five-shot advantage at the turn suddenly became a one-stroke deficit through 13 holes, turned what could have been Fowler’s most recent Sunday disaster into his first win in 24 months.
Fowler shot a 3-over 74, the worst final round by a winner in tournament history, to reach 17-under par for the week, two shots better than Branden Grace and three better than Justin Thomas.
Fowler had developed an unfortunate reputation for struggling to close on Tour. Five times coming into the week, he had enjoyed a 54-hole lead, and all five times, he shot over par.
The Phoenix crowd in excess of 600,000 patrons knew it; one of those instances was in this event, just one year ago. He was over par again on Sunday, but after shooting 64-65-64 in the first three rounds, his margin of error was much larger, and he needed most of it.
Now, Fowler’s prodigious fan base hopes that this win gives him even more confidence as he attempts to shed the label of best golfer in the world to not win a major championship.
Pos-Player-To Par (Today)
1 Rickie Fowler -17 (+3)
2 Branden Grace -15 (-2)
3 Justin Thomas -14 (+1)
4 Chez Reavie -12 (-3)
4 Bubba Watson -12 (E)
4 Matt Kuchar -12 (+4)
7 Chris Stroud -11 (-2)
7 Sungjae Im -11 (-2)
7 Gary Woodland -11 (+1)
10 Jon Rahm -10 (-2)
10 Xander Schauffele -10 (E)
10 Russell Knox -10 (-3)
10 Jhonattan Vegas -10 (-2)
10 Harold Varner III -10 (-1)
15 Tyrrell Hatton -9
15 Hideki Matsuyama -9
20 Webb Simpson -8
20 Charley Hoffman -8
26 Kevin Kisner -7
26 J.B. Holmes -7
33 Hunter Mahan -6
33 Ollie Schniederjans -6
39 Zach Johnson -5
39 Billy Horschel -5
44 Alex Noren -4
44 Jimmy Walker -4
50 Stewart Cink -3
55 Brandt Snedeker -2
60 Ryan Palmer E
67 Cameron Champ +1
67 Keegan Bradley +1
How Rickie Fowler Won the Waste Management Phoenix Open
It was not surprising to see Fowler hold a four-stroke lead coming into the final round at TPC Scottsdale. He has an excellent history in this event, taking runner-up in both 2010 and 2016, finishing T4 in 2017, and leading after 54-holes last year. The question this year became, can he hold this time?
Fowler’s front nine comprised eight pars and a double-bogey, but as underwhelming as it was, his chief competition was doing little as well in the soggy conditions, and when he birdied the 10th, he still held a five-stroke lead.
Then the 11th hole happened.
Fowler’s birdie chip on the par-4 ran through the green and landed in the water hazard. He then compounded the error further, when his placed ball rolled back into the water after he had walked away from it, leading to a second-consecutive penalty. He had to sink a 17-foot putt just to limit the damage to a triple-bogey. He then bogeyed the next hole, and suddenly, Grace found himself the solo leader with six holes to play.
In the past, Rickie might have let bad get worse, but he composed himself and played spectacularly down the stretch. He birdied Nos. 15 and 17 to take a two-stroke advantage going into the last hole after Grace hit his drive on 17 into the water and failed to save par.
Fowler’s drive on the 18th was unlucky to land in the thick grass of the “church pew” bunkers, but he calmly hit himself onto the fringe of the green, and two putts later, he was finally a Phoenix Open champion.
For the week, Fowler led a strong field in birdies, strokes gained: putting, and strokes gained: total. He was third in strokes gained: tee-to-green and greens in regulation.
What It Means For Fowler
This is an important year for Fowler, who’s without question one of the world’s elite golfers, but has faced increasing criticism for a lack of career wins, more specifically coming up empty in the major championships.
He is coming off a season where he failed to win any event, and he’ll be hoping this victory can be a catalyst for a big run. His last victory had come at the 2017 Honda Classic, two years ago this month.
Fowler has spent most of the past five years ranked inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings, but had finished 2018 in the 11th position, and came into the week ranked 14th. With his Waste Management Phoenix Open triumph, Fowler moved back into the top 10 (No. 8), leapfrogging some big names in Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Francesco Molinari, and Rory McIlroy.
The big names struggled with the Sunday atmosphere, but while the scoring was well down as a whole compared to the rest of the week, there were some great rounds produced on the final day.
Chez Reavie, who finished runner-up after losing a playoff at last year’s Phoenix Open, was brilliant again in the rainy Phoenix finale, posting a bogey-free 3-under 68, and jumping from 12th to 4th on the leaderboard.
Reavie is still in search of his first PGA Tour win since the 2008 Canadian Open, but over these past two years at TPC Scottsdale, he’s essentially told the Tour that he is close. This is his second top-4 finish in his three most recent starts.
Xander Schauffele kept his position atop the current FedExCup standings, posting a scorecard that was nearly identical to Reavie’s with a 3-under 68. Both Reavie and Schauffele had 16 pars, one birdie, and one eagle, with the only difference being that Reavie’s birdie came on No. 10, while Schauffele’s came on the 11th.
Schauffele’s 68 snuck him just inside the top 10 – his third in his last four starts. The only man in the field to better Reavie and Schauffele on Sunday was Billy Horschel, who had an eagle of his own alongside three birdies, leading to a 4-under 67.
Horschel gained nearly five strokes on the Sunday field tee-to-green, and enjoyed the largest leaderboard rise, moving 26 spots up into a tie for 39th.
Greatly aiding Fowler’s Super Bowl Sunday victory was the fact that most of his competition was similarly terrible in round four.
Matt Kuchar came into the week red-hot with wins in two of his last three PGA Tour starts, and after three strong rounds to open the Phoenix Open, he came into Sunday in solo-second, four strokes behind Fowler. But Kuchar struggled to get anything going on Sunday, and carded just a single birdie en route to a 4-over 75.
Despite playing mediocre for most of the day, Kuchar was still in the mix late, until he sent his second shot on the par-5 15th into the water. From that point, it became essentially a two-person battle between Fowler and Grace. Kuchar finished T4.
Justin Thomas, the highest ranked player in the field (No. 4), started the day in third place, and was also in position to take advantage of a poor day by Fowler, but like Kuchar, executed very little.
Thomas hit just three fairways on Sunday, and failed to make up any of that with his putter, which was also a struggle. Thomas finished the round birdie-birdie, but was well out of the championship mix by then. He shot a 1-over 72 to finish solo-third.
Matching Thomas’ Sunday 72 was defending champion Gary Woodland, who was great off the tees, but couldn’t figure out the greens. Woodland finished T7, which is his sixth top-10 finish in just eight starts this season (he had just three in 27 starts last season), but after his triumph a year ago, he had higher hopes going into Sunday.
“It feels good now, but I tell you, it was definitely not fun out there. Seems as soon as I kind of got something going, I would take a step or two back and had to kind of dig myself out of some holes. So definitely happy coming out on top. But I really don’t want to have to go and win tournaments that way.”
– Rickie Fowler, Waste Management Phoenix Open Champion
Final Scores, Money, & Points
WM Phoenix Open | TPC Scottsdale Stadium | Scottsdale, AZ | February 3, 2019