A Very Fine Player
At the beginning of the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship, which falls on Mother’s Day, there were 30 players within 5 strokes of the lead.
Those players were an eclectic ensemble that included superstars, stars on the rise, and a handful of unheralded players shooting for the stars.
The superstars were Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott. Stars on the rise included Billy Horschel, Bill Haas and Rickie Fowler. Lesser known players, Brian Harman, Ben Martin and Kevin Kisner were all contenders in the giant pack chasing the overnight leader, Chris Kirk.
The PGA Tour’s marquee event (that they so obsessively want to become golf’s 5th Major) was poised to be a Sunday shoot-out at the course most suited for one.
The Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass is the stage that annually hosts the strongest field in golf and provides the most elaborate theater. Pete Dye’s Dye-abolical masterpiece is a collection of 18 holes that each offer triumph or disaster culminating in the iconic closing trio of 16, 17 and 18.
The 2015 edition would become the most thrilling in the history of THE PLAYERS.
After a bogey on his opening hole, Sergio Garcia birdied 4 of his next five holes to take the lead at 11-under par. Garcia would hold that lead until a bogey-5 on the 14th hole.
Earlier in the week in an anonymous poll of 100 Tour players, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter had been voted as the Tour’s two most overrated players. Perhaps the rationale of the vote for Fowler was that he has won only one tournament in his career despite so many close calls (he has had 7 runner-up finishes and has been 3rd, 5 times). Perhaps it was also founded in jealousy because Fowler is one of the games’ most marketable and endorsed players. In any form, it was wrong.
Fowler had begun the day at 7-under par, 3 behind Kirk. After a pedestrian opening dozen holes which Fowler played in 1-over par to be seemingly out of contention, his final 6 holes were the stuff of legend. Fowler birdied the par-4 13th hole and made a par on the 14th before closing with 3 birdies and an eagle in the last 4 holes, to finish at 12-under par.
Playing a few groups behind Fowler, Garcia birdied the par-5, 16th and then holed an improbable 44 foot putt for a birdie-2 on the 17th to tie Fowler at 12-under.
Paired with Kirk in the final two-some, 31 year old rookie, Kevin Kisner, would match his more heralded rivals on the finishing holes. Kisner would also birdie the 16th and the island green at #17, hitting his wedge to 15 feet and converting for his birdie 2. Kisner made par on the 18th to tie Fowler and Garcia at 12-under and be part of the first 3-man playoff at THE PLAYERS.
When Kisner was asked in the Saturday evening press conference if he thought he could win, he answered very simply: “why not?”
All three players made par-5’s on the first hole of the playoff on #16 and then all hit the green on the 17th. Garcia two-putted for a par-3 before Kisner made a 12-foot putt for a birdie. Fowler had hit is shot the closest of the three and made his 5 foot putt for birdie to join Kisner at 1-under.
Pars on 18 meant that Garcia was eliminated and Fowler and Kisner would continue in sudden-death elimination.
Kisner was the first to play and took dead aim at the pin on #17 hitting his tee shot to 18 feet. Fowler bettered Kisner with a bold shot to within 5 feet. After Kisner missed his birdie attempt, Fowler rolled his putt perfectly into the hole to become the 42nd PLAYERS Champion.
Fowler’s birdie on golf’s most famous island, was his fifth in the six times that he played it this week.
Fittingly, Fowler’s Mother, Lynne, who has been such a big part of his success, was there to greet him as he walked off the green.
So much for being overrated.