Standing on the tee of the driveable par-4 17th at TPC Scottsdale, Rickie Fowler had a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
Rather than lay up and play for a pair of closing pars that may be good enough to win, Fowler chose to drive the green. He didn’t feel he could carry a critical fairway bunker with his 3-wood, so he took out his driver. He smoked it. It landed on a downslope some 30 yards in front of the green and took off like a rocket, through the green and into the water hazard in back of the hole.
All of a sudden, Fowler’s aggressive play didn’t seem like the right one. He made bogey and fell into a tie with Hideki Matsuyama, one of his Sunday playing partners, who made 3 on No. 17.
Both players made dramatic birdies on the 18th hole and went to sudden death at 14-under 270.
After three extra holes couldn’t settle the matter, the pair returned to the 17th. For Fowler, it was deja vu all over again. He tugged his drive left and found the water hazard. After flexing some short-game muscle to get to extra holes and extend the playoff again and again, the magic ran out and Fowler made bogey.
Matsuyama, who didn’t hit a great drive but kept it dry, made an unimpressive par, but a winning one nonetheless.
For the 23-year-old Japanese player, it’s his second PGA Tour win, backing up a win at the 2014 Memorial.
For Fowler, it’s an unfortunate loss given where he stood with two to play. However, with how often Fowler flirted with the water on this desert layout, he had to feel lucky to even get this far. The question for him as he (presumably) sits down to watch Super Bowl 50 tonight isn’t Broncos or Panthers, it’s if he’d hit driver if he had it to do all over again.
He should pick driver.
Fowler won four times in the last 12 months on the back of aggressive play. He took dead aim down the stretch at The Players, blasting 330-yard drives on the water-guarded 18th in regulation and in the three-hole playoff to win. He birdied the par-3 17th three times on that Sunday. He refused to back down in Scotland in windy conditions to win the Scottish Open against an all-star field. He remained true to himself to beat Henrik Stenson at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September. He chipped in on the 71st hole to win two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, then took an aggressive line on the par-5 finisher to ensure a win.
Eventually, the percentages don’t work in your favor. However, just because it didn’t work out this time doesn’t mean Fowler should cower again given the chance. Take off the headcover and swing away.
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