PEBBLE BEACH, Ca. — Vaughn Taylor is headed home to the Masters with his first PGA Tour victory in more than a decade, and he can’t believe it.
Neither can Phil Mickelson.
Taylor, who hasn’t had a full PGA Tour card for the last the three years, ran off four straight birdies on the back nine to close with a 7-under 65 and won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday when Mickelson missed a 5-foot putt on the final hole.
“It’s been a long time. I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Taylor (pictured) said. “I worked so hard. I kept getting knocked down, knocked down. I’m just at a loss for words.”
A week of spectacular weather on the Monterey Peninsula ended with a stunning conclusion for both players.
Taylor is No. 447 in the world and won his first PGA Tour event against the top players. His previous two victories were the Reno-Tahoe Open (2004 and 2005), which is held opposite a World Golf Championship. He just returned from South America and a pair of Web.com Tour events.
And then there was Mickelson, going for his 43rd career PGA Tour victory and his record-tying fifth at Pebble Beach, staked to a two-shot lead with no one near his pedigree within five shots of the lead.
Mickelson, however, struggled from the start and could not keep making enough par putts to hold off Taylor.
Lefty still managed a rally of his own. Trailing by two shots with two holes to play, Lefty made a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and was in perfect position for a birdie on the closing hole at Pebble Beach. His hybrid landed in front of the green, 60 feet short of the pin.
His pitch came up 5 feet short, and the birdie putt to force a playoff hit the left edge of the cup and spun out. Mickelson bent over with his hand on his knee.
“It never crossed my mind that one on 18 wouldn’t go in,” he said.
Mickelson closed with a 72, extending the longest victory drought of his professional career dating to the 2013 British Open.
Taylor is a longtime resident of Augusta, Georgia, and the perks of this surprise victory starts with a spot in the Masters for the first time since 2008. The 39-year-old Taylor also gets a two-year exemption, meaningful for a guy who lost his card after 2012.
Jonas Blixt, the first player to catch Mickelson, made bogey on the par-5 14th to fall back and closed with four pars for a 69 to finish third. Hiroshi Iwata of Japan, who played with Mickelson in the final group, was one shot behind until he missed the 16th green to the right and made bogey He closed with a 72 to tie for fourth with Freddie Jacobson (71).
Taylor didn’t look like much of a threat when he went out in 34, but he poured it on the back nine. He hit his approach to 3 feet on the 13th and to 12 feet on the dangerous par-5 14th hole. Coming out of the rough on the 15th, his ball hit the golf ball of Matt Jones and settled 2 feet away for a third straight birdie.
The real blow came at the 16th, a 30 foot birdie putt on one of the toughest greens at Pebble. He rammed it hard enough and watched it break back into the cup, and Taylor ran around the green to celebrate.
“I’ve had that putt before. It’s a hard putt,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t even thinking about making that putt. I knew it broke a lot, and it’s a little uphill at the end. It’s really easy to leave that putt short. I just flushed it. It was kind of going in from the start.”
He missed two good birdie chances on the last two holes, but still wound up a winner.
Taylor wasn’t even in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am until last Friday when he Carl Pettersen withdrew. That’s no longer a problem. He’s in the Masters and PGA Championship, and he gets to set his own schedule for the next two years.
Taylor finished at 17-under 270.
Jordan Spieth, the world’s No. 1 player, closed with a 66 and tied for 21st, ending his streak of seven straight top 10s dating to September.