Saturday 3 December 2016

Superb Fowler finds extra gear to clinch play-off glory

William S Callahan

Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30

Rickie Fowler plays his second shot on the 16th hole during a playoff at Sawgrass
Rickie Fowler plays his second shot on the 16th hole during a playoff at Sawgrass

Rickie Fowler did a terrific job of ramming criticism down the throats of detractors by winning The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

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Fowler had previously won only one PGA Tour event, the 2012 Wells Fargo, and had to field questions all week about supposedly being dubbed one of the most over-rated players on Tour in a survey conducted by a magazine.

Well, they have their answers now as Fowler came good to triumph in The Players Championship, defeating Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia in a playoff.

Tied at 12 under when regular play ended, the trio went into the three hole play-off in which aggregate scores would decide the issue.

Garcia bowed out after the three holes on level par, and it was left to Fowler and Kisner to go to sudden death on the dreaded par-3 17th.

Annex

Kisner could only par, and Fowler holed for birdie to annex the title they call 'the fifth major.'

"I'm just happy that I had a chance after my finish to get into a play off and get it done.

"I was up against two solid players. Kis hasn't been out here long but he's a very good player and Sergio is too. This one is special," said Fowler.

This was a victory that looked unlikely until Fowler scorched home over the last six holes to post the clubhouse target at 12 under par for the chasing pack.

Seven under par at the start of the day, Fowler was one of 29 players including Rory McIlroy who were within four shots of overnight leader Chris Kirk.

After 12 holes, the California native was one over for the day - and then something magical happened.

From deep within himself, and aided by just a smidgin of good fortune, Fowler found a flame of inspiration to deliver four birdies and an eagle in his last six holes and grab the tournament by the throat.

That phenomenal run brought him lasting fame as the first man in the championship's history to cover the last three holes in just 11 shots.

Seven players, including Padraig Harrington in 2004, and Garcia in 2011, had done it in 12 blows, but more important for Fowler, he was now the clubhouse leader.

Garcia stood up to the challenge, and drew on all his experience to birdie the 16th and 17th holes to claw his way to 12 under.

Back out the course, Ben Martin and Kisner refused to go away. They went to the 18th tee, both on 12 under and 'only' requiring a par to join Fowler and Garcia, but Martin three putted for bogey.

Kisner, a first timer at The Players, could hardly have come closer to making the play-off unnecessary.

His 11 foot putt looked perfect en route to the hole. Kisner, and many others thought it was in, but to his chagrin, the ball stayed above ground.

In the playoff, all three took par on the long 16th, but Fowler and Kisner each birdied the 17th, while Sergio could only manage a three.

That put all the pressure on Sergio for the 18th. Pars all round meant the Spaniard had to exit stage left, leaving the Americans to decide the ultimate outcome.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy's bid for glory ended tamely with his indifferent putting leaving him on eight under par with a finishing 70.

"Obviously I was looking to go out there today and shoot something in the mid-60s. That would have given me a chance.

"I felt like I gave myself enough opportunities again out there to make some putts, but I just couldn't. The putter really let me down this week.

"Even from the first day I couldn't come to terms with the greens. That was sort of the story of the week," he said.

Padraig Harrington finished sunny side up by shooting eight shots better than the previous day for a five under par 67, leaving him two under overall for the tournament.

Graeme McDowell closed on level par 288 with a 71.

Tiger Woods recorded his worst finish in 17 attempts at The Players, but refused to be downbeat.

The 39-year-old American shot a 72 to finish on three-over and said: "We're progressing. It's a matter of putting the pieces together first.

"I mean, look where it was at on the West Coast at the start of the year and to where I'm at now. I'm way more comfortable."

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