PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Patton Kizzire began the most important 36 holes of his life by hitting a tree. Hard.
It was just past 7:30 a.m., and at the par-4 first, from the scraggy, rocky area left of the cart path, he blistered his second shot only to watch his ball smack the trunk of a fig tree. The ball could have gone anywhere; it shot back and right, into the fairway.
From there, Kizzire hit a utility metal short of the green and got up-and-down for a heart-stopping bogey.
“Yeah, I was hoping everybody forgot about that,” Kizzire, 31, said with a sheepish smile. “That was a wild start. To have a 12-footer for bogey on my first hole trying to win a golf tournament, you know, that’s a challenging start. To make that putt and kind of calm down and find my stride and start making birdies and get out front, you know, that felt really good.”
Maxie Patton Kizzire, who was born in Montgomerie, Alabama, but lives with his wife, Kari, in Sea Island, Georgia, became the newest first-time winner on the PGA Tour with rounds of 66-67 on a marathon Sunday. He also held off a persistent Rickie Fowler, the highest ranked player in the field, who matched him almost shot for shot(67-67) over the last two rounds.
Thunderstorms played havoc starting Friday, pushing the second round to Saturday and the third and fourth to Sunday, which was muggy but, thankfully, not rainy. The 6-foot-5 Kizzire, who opened the tournament with a 9-under 62, weathered it all largely by putting as well as he ever has on TOUR, according to his longtime caddie, Joe Etter.
“To shoot 19 under with all this wind? I mean, I know it’s soft, but that’s still kind of hitting on all phases,” Etter said. “He can do it.”
Fowler birdied the 16th and 17th holes to close within one, but couldn’t make it three in a row on 18 and Kizzire two-putted for par to bring on the mariachi players.
“He earned it out there,” Fowler said. “He played well all day today, 36 holes. Putted really well and made a lot of good putts for birdie and to save some pars, and I know he was thanking his putter there on the 18th green.”
Kizzire came to El Camaleon on the heels of a T4 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and a T10 at the Sanderson Farms Championship. “The thing that led to this is he made the cut on the number at Sanderson Farms,” Etter said. “He had a nice weekend and a top 10, and realized you just gotta free it up and let it go. And it’s just been snowballing since.”
Now the player who finished 99th in last season’s FedExCup Playoffs, who has never made it to the TOUR Championship, is leading the FedExCup standings and headed for the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Masters, among other elite tournaments.
“I’m kind of a never-give-up guy,” said Kizzire, who got up and down four times in four chances in the final round. “I’ve really tried to stay the course and believe in myself. It seemed a long way at the point when I was on the Hooters Tour, but now it’s just part of the whole process.”