PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – What started as a snooze turned into a scream of a finish at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Rickie Fowler survived a three-hole aggregate playoff and one hole of sudden death, dispatching Sergio Garcia and then Kevin Kisner to win his second PGA Tour event, breaking a dry spell of three years and four days.
“I was always looked at as only having one win on Tour,” Fowler said as darkness fell Sunday. “And I always felt that I needed to put myself in position to win more often, and I did that last year. I wasn’t able to end up as the last guy standing. It feels good to be back in that position.”
Fowler went 6 under par for his last six holes of regulation—his total of 11 strokes on holes 15-18 is the lowest score on those holes in any single round in tournament history—and 2 under for his four extra holes.
The 25-year-old will move to sixth in the world, the highest ever ranking, and collects a first-prize check worth $1.8 million.
After rolling in a five-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole to end it, Fowler hugged his mother Lynn—he said his purple shoes, and purple-blue-white shirt were in honor of Mother’s Day—and accepted a kiss from his girlfriend Alexis Randock. Bubba Watson (with his son Caleb) later offered his congratulations, as did Fowler’s 2007 Walker Cup teammate Billy Horschel.
“Finally everything clicked,” Fowler said.
Bill Haas (70) and Ben Martin (70) missed the playoff by one at 11 under.
The winner came into this week in the shadow of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, and having tied for the most overrated player on Tour in a much-talked-about anonymous player poll in Sports Illustrated. Fowler said Sunday that he laughed off the poll but added, eying the trophy, “If there was any question, I think this here answers everything you need to know.”
Fowler, Garcia and Kisner went a combined 8 under on the last three holes of regulation in a mad dash to the finish.
“It was a cool experience to be part of that,” said Kisner, who also lost a playoff, to Jim Furyk, at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head last month.
Garcia, who could manage only three pars in the aggregate playoff, while Fowler and Kisner each birdied 17, said he was heckled down the stretch.
“Obviously, some guys here that don’t deserve to be watching golf,” he said.
Fowler’s back nine 31 included a tap-in eagle at the par-5 16th hole, and his 67 was tied for the best round of the day. His birdie-par-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish was reminiscent of the 2010 Ryder Cup, when Fowler birdied the last four holes to halve his match against Edoardo Molinari.
Garcia was two shots back when Fowler finished, but birdied the 16th hole and made a 44-foot birdie putt from the back of the 17th green.
Haas and Martin narrowly missed out on the playoff—Haas unable to make birdie from in front of the green, and Martin unable to save par.
That left the stage to Kisner, who at 31 was trying to win for the first time on Tour. Kisner, The 123rd ranked player in the world, he was also trying to become the first Players first-timer to win since Craig Perks in 2002. Kisner’s birdie try from just inside 10 feet at the 18th hole would have ended it in regulation, but his ball burned the edge and he signed for a 69.
“I’ve always won at every level I’ve played at,” said Kisner, who was one of the big revelations of this Players. “I’ve always been good under the gun. If I believe in myself and know what I’m doing, I know I can do it.”
Rory McIlroy started the day four strokes off the lead and in a tie for 17th place, but he could only manage an even-par 36 on the front nine, and finished with six straight pars for his third straight top-10 finish here (T8).
“A lot of positives from tee to green,” said McIlroy, who finished 60th in strokes gained putting. “I just need to go home over the next couple of days and work on my putting and hopefully it will be better for next week.”
Tiger Woods began the day 3 over par for the tournament and made a run with birdies on holes 10-12. Alas, after a ghastly triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 14th hole, and a bogey on 18, he signed for a 72.
“It was a mixed bag pretty much all week,” Woods said. “A lot of really, really good stuff out there, some mediocre and some bad. I had—what did I have?—three sevens on the week. That’s not very good.”
Still, Woods at least made the cut and finished 72 holes.
“It feels a lot closer,” he said of his latest swing change.
Fowler is closer, too—closer to the front of the line of twenty-somethings who now rule the game.
“We’re ready to go to battle and have some fun,” he said.
If the battle is anything like it was Sunday, it should be quite a show.
MORE RICKIE: Fowler’s Swing In Slow Motion