Rickie Fowler Survives Sunday Drama to Claim Phoenix Title
Dustin Johnson overcame a world-class field to win the inaugural Saudi International by two strokes on Sunday and claim his sixth European Tour title.
"It feels really good," said Johnson. "Any time you can win a professional golf tournament, no matter where it is in the world, it's a big win. I'm honoured to be the champion and I'm very pleased with the win.
"The things that I've been working on are working and I've still got a lot of room for improvement. I'm very pleased with where the game is at. I've got a lot of confidence in what I'm doing and I feel like I'm hitting a lot of really good golf shots. So misses are starting to get better and I'm not making as many mistakes, even though I did on 16. But for the most part, that was about the only really bad shot I hit this week.
"So I'm pleased with where the game's at, and to get a win here, it's a big win, gives me a lot of confidence going for the rest of the year."
He now heads back across the Atlantic to take part in the AT&T Pebble Beach pro-Am, one of his favourite tournaments.
Johnson came out on top in a thrilling final-round battle with playing partner Li Haotong, mixing five birdies with two bogeys in his closing 67 to finish the week on 19 under par. Li did really well to recover from the bitter disappointment of last week, when he was penalised two shots after his caddie was accused of lining him up on his birdie putt on the 72nd green at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Li finished second after holing a five-foot birdie putt at the 18th to get to 17 under. Englishman Tom Lewis continued his revival and was another stroke back after carding seven birdies and two bogeys in his final-round 65, one ahead of Min Woo Lee in fourth.
Johnson drew first blood in the final round, holing from six feet to pick up a shot at the second for the fourth day in a row. Li hit back, knocking in from close range at the long fourth before taking the lead when he holed his approach from high above the ninth hole to secure an unlikely birdie. After both men had dropped shots at the 10th, Johnson moved in front with back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th.
Li then dropped shots on the 13th and 14th to fall three shots off the pace. But the 23 year old sent his approach at the 15th to within two feet of the cup before rolling in for a birdie to close the gap. There was to be another twist as Johnson's tee-shot at the short 16th missed the green and went left towards the sea. He was forced to take a drop but holed his bogey putt to drop just the one shot and remain one ahead of Li and Lewis.
And he tapped in for another birdie at the 17th to restore his two-shot advantage with one hole left to play. Johnson then repeated the trick at the last, rolling in from two feet to win the tournament by two shots.
Rickie Fowler doesn’t like to do things the easy way. Just when he seemed to have the Waste Management Open Phoenix title all sewn up, he decided to make life interesting for himself, his rivals and the vast galleries.
The American led by four shots when he came to the 11th hole and was cruising. But then he hit his chip into the water. He took a drop and watched as the ball rolled back into the hard once again. So he took another drop and eventually walked off the green with a triple-bogey seven. And it got worse. His brain totally fried by what had just happened, he also dropped a shot at the 12th.
All of a sudden, South Africa’s Branden Grace found himself in the most unexpected of leads before 30-year-old Fowler somehow managed to regroup. He birdied the 15th and the 17th holes on his way to a final round of 74, three over par. It was nevertheless still good enough for a 72-hole total of 17 under par, two better than Grace, who closed with a 69.
With some understatement,, Fowler said afterwards: "It was a bit of a rollercoaster, although other than two holes, it was a decent round. It was a bad break with the ball rolling back in the water. That's what's nice about having a cushion after the first 54 holes. But I have to tell you that I hope I never have to go through that again.” It was just his fifth PGA Tour title, which seems a poor return for a golfer of his quality. Justin Thomas, Fowler’s friend and roommate for the week, shot 72 to finish third.
In ending a near two-year win drought, Fowler moved to seventh in the FedExCup, qualified for the Sentry Tournament of Champions and bucked a trend that had seen him convert only one of his past six 54-hole leads/co-leads to victory on the PGA Tour.
Fowler had gone into the 11th hole with his four-shot overnight lead intact. However, when he attempted a straightforward pitch, his ball skidded through the green, narrowly missing a bunker before rolling into the water.
“Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong at the 11th,” Fowler said. It all began when his approach to the 483-yard hole came up short. He got too aggressive with his third, which skidded through the rain-soaked green, trickled down the hill behind it, and tumbled into the pond. “The ball looked like it was on ice,” he said.
Fowler took a drop at water’s edge and walked up the hill to look at the green. With the rain intensifying and Fowler having turned his back, the ball that was at rest rolled down the hill and into the water. After some discussion with a rule official, it was determined that Fowler would be penalised one more shot for the ball going in the water. The reason was that the ball had been in play, even though he hadn’t hit it.
“That’s an interesting one,” Fowler said. “We did nothing to cause it to happen, and it’s a one-shot penalty.” He dropped again, chipped his sixth shot onto the green, and rolled in a 17-foot putt for a seven. Grace birdied the 13th hole, Fowler bogeyed 12, and just like that he’d gone from five ahead to one behind in less than an hour.
Fowler birdied the 15th as both players were on 16 under heading down the final straight. There was a two-shot swing in Fowler's favour when Grace hit his drive into the water on 17, which led to a bogey five, while the American birdied the same hole, before a par on the 18th gave him victory.
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