By Sam McPherson
Coming into Sunday’s fourth round at The Players Championship on the famous TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Verde Beach, Florida, veteran Rickie Fowler had just one career PGA Tour win under his belt. At seven-under, he was three shots off the lead — but in 11th place. No problem: Fowler carded four birdies and an eagle over the final six holes to force his way into a three-way playoff with Kevin Kisner and Sergio García. He would go on to win the tournament on the fourth hole of extra play with his third birdie of the day on the famed 17th hole.
Fowler birdied the Island Green in regulation play, on the second hole of the initial three-hole aggregate playoff and then again on the first hole of the sudden-death playoff. If there was a word cloud from the broadcasts and post coverage, “clutch” and “electrifying” would be displayed in huge fonts. Fowler — who at just 26 years old seems like he’s been around forever, despite not looking a day over 20 — played his final 10 holes of the day at eight under par.
His day actually started on a sour note as he bogeyed the first hole to fall to six under. A birdie at the seventh got him back to even for the day, but he started the back nine with another bogey. Standing on the 13th tee, he was five shots behind García. Yet the young American flipped the switch to close birdie-par-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie and claim a spot in the playoff he eventually would win.
Chris Kirk came into the final round at -10, but he shot three-over to fade from the lead. Meanwhile, Fowler shot a 67, García shot a 68 and Kisner shot 69 as each golfer finished -12 for the tournament. Bill Haas and Ben Martin both carded 70s on Sunday to just miss the playoff at 11 under. Haas missed a birdie putt on 18 that would have placed him in the playoff, while Martin bogeyed the final hole to fall out of the lead.
There was plenty of drama Sunday at Sawgrass, where professional golf’s fifth major certainly lived up to its billing. Fowler, García and Kisner each parred the first hole of the initial three-hole playoff — the par-5 16th hole — but Fowler and Kisner proceeded to birdie the 17th hole. García had to go for it on the third hole of the playoff (the 18th), and his aggressiveness didn’t pay off as he bogeyed the hole. Fowler and Kisner finished the three-hole playoff tied at one-under, so they marched back to the 17th for the first sudden-death hole.
Kisner dropped a great shot just 12 feet out, but he was unable to convert the putt. Fowler placed his tee shot just five feet from the hole and sank the putt for the $1.8 million victory. García and Kisner each earned $880,000 for their second-place tie. Fowler’s only previous PGA Tour win came in 2012 at the Wells Fargo Championship, which is also the next tournament up on the PGA Tour schedule. Fowler also won that even in a playoff.
Next On The Tee: The Wells Fargo Championship
The Wells Fargo Championship is played at the Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, NC, and this year’s purse is expected to be more than $7 million. J.B. Holmes is the defending champion. Although 2012 champ Fowler himself is not in the field for the event, Kisner will look to ride his own momentum for another week on the tough Quail Hollow greens that Phil Mickelson once described as the “worst-designed greens we play on tour.”
Holmes is just one of eight former winners who will tee off on Thursday, the site of the 2017 PGA Championship. Look for 2010 Wells champion Rory McIlroy to make a push for the victory next weekend as he is the best player in the world right now. McIlroy finished in a tie for eighth place at The Players Championship, and he won the World Golf Championships match play event in San Francisco on May 3.
Other former winners also playing this week at the Wells Championship include Derek Ernst, Jim Furyk, Lucas Glover, Sean O’Hair, Vijay Singh and David Toms — who carded -7 for the The Players Championship to finish tied for 13th place. Holmes finished 51st at Sawgrass (-1), while Furyk was 56th at even par. Singh — now 52 years old — posted a +1 total for the week at The Players, finishing 63rd. O’Hair missed the cut at Sawgrass.
Patrick Reed, currently fourth in the FedEx Cup standings, is also playing in the Wells Fargo Championship. Holmes currently is third in the FedEx standings.
The Quail Hollow Club course plays 7,442 yards long and is a par 72.
Rory McIlroy, David Toms, J.B. Holmes (defending champion), Rory Sabbatini
Players to Watch:
Patrick Reed, Lucas Glover, Derek Ernst, Kevin Kisner
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball and fantasy sports for many online sites, including CBS, AXS and Examiner.