PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Arguably, it was the greatest finish in the 41-year history of The Players Championship. Then it went into extra holes and it became even more intriguing.
In the end, Rickie Fowler had the final say on the PGA Tour’s most famous hole.
A legend-building finish elevated Fowler to his second PGA Tour win, as he claimed The Players Championship on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass.
“It’s amazing,” Fowler said. “We obviously look at this tournament as one of the biggest that we play up against the Majors. This is a special week.”
Fowler shot a final-round 67 by going 6 under in his final six holes to finish at 12 under. He then had to wait out challenges by Sergio Garcia, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, Bill Haas and Ben Martin.
Ultimately, Garcia and Kisner tied him to force the first three-hole playoff in tournament history. The format had been changed in 2013; it had previously been a sudden-death playoff on the 17th.
Either way, Fowler would have won, as he dominated the island green this week. He birdied the hole three times on Sunday, and five times in six trips there this week.
In the playoff, he and Kisner both birdied 17, and ultimately eliminated Garcia, who parred all three holes.
Now back at 17 for the third time Sunday, Kisner hit his tee shot inside 13 feet, but Fowler was even better, inside 5 feet. After Kisner’s missed birdie putt, Fowler rolled in the winning putt.
Fowler, whose only previous win came in 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, had entered the week having to answer questions about a recent Sports Illustrated poll in which his fellow pros had rated him as one of the TOUR’s most overrated players, whose popularity didn’t match his success.
He answered that criticism with an incredible six-hole finish that included one eagle, four birdies and a par at the Tour’s signature event.
When Fowler walked off the 12th hole, he appeared out of the mix. He was even par on his round and 6 under for the tournament.
“I was out of the tournament after 12 holes,” he said.
But then he drained a 12-1/2 foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th.
After a par on the difficult 14th hole, he then struck his approach shot at the par-4 15th to 13-1/2 feet and made that birdie putt.
At the par-5 16th, his second shot from 239 yards landed inside 2-1/2 feet, setting up an eagle opportunity. That put him at 10 under and just one shot off the lead held by Garcia.
At the 17th, his tee shot landed inside 7 feet. By then, he couldn’t miss with his putter. Another birdie.
Finally, at the closing hole, the par-4 18th, his approach left him with a birdie putt just inside 17 feet. He drained the birdie to take a two-shot lead, as Garcia had suffered a bogey a few minutes earlier.
In going birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie over the last four holes, Fowler achieved something no player ever had done at TPC Sawgrass, needing just 11 strokes in that stretch.
While walking toward the scoring area, he was hugged by his girlfriend, Alexis Randolph. Then after signing his card, he received another hug, this one from reigning FedExCup champ Billy Horschel, who then gave him an earful of congratulations.
“There wasn’t many non-cuss words that were said there,” Horschel said. “I just said bleeping happy for you, you know, bleep bleep stuff and bleep bleep bleep. … I was jacked for him.”
For most of the day, it appeared Garcia would win his second Players Championship. Three consecutive birdies on his front nine moved him to 11 under through six holes, and he stayed there with a series of pars over the next seven holes.
Meanwhile, no other players near the lead seemed able to make a big push – until Fowler got the hottest hand of his career.
But as Fowler waited at the driving range, keeping loose in case of a playoff, others finally showed signs of life.
In the end, though, Fowler would not be denied.