Kyle Stanley is the winner of the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open after a one-shot victory over Ben Crane. What a difference a week makes. Just one week ago he couldn’t close out Brandt Snedeker at Torrey Pines, blowing a three-shot lead on 18 tee. This Sunday, he was the hunter, not the hunted. He chased down third round leader Spencer Levin and passed him once he finished 15. Having a one-shot lead over Ben Crane on 18 tee this Sunday, he two-putted the final green to win his first tournament on the PGA Tour finishing with 15-under-par 269. Stanley, with 27 holes left in tournament, trailed by 12 shots. Stanley closed with a bogey-free 65 to wrap up an exhilarating seven days. Levin, who had a six-shot lead heading into Sunday, finished third. With his victory, his first in his career on Tour, Stanley becomes just the fifth first-time winner here since 1987. This is also the fourth year in a row that the winner has been in the top three in GIR (Stanley third). We also have a new leader on top of the FedExCup points standing as Stanley passes Johnson Wagner for first place.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
For the second week in a row, a young Tour player was trying to navigate a big lead on Sunday. For the second week in a row, a young Tour player was also looking for his first career victory. For the second week in a row, a young Tour player was looking for answers after the final round wondering what it was that happened to his large lead.
The strange part of this equation is the same player was involved two weeks in a row. Kyle Stanley was on the receiving end of blowing a five-shot lead last weekend. This Sunday he was the one eight shots behind when play started but was standing alone after play was completed.
I argued last week that it would be tough for Stanley to come back this week and play well after dealing with all the interviews, the questions and the soul-searching. Wrong was I and kudos to Stanley for taking his medicine, circling the wagons and not just playing well, but winning this week. That’s remarkable character from the 24-year old from Clemson University. Bravo!
Well, Johnson Wagner had the moustache and he finished first at Sony followed by second at Humana. Now, Kyle Stanley, who has the five-o’clock shadow, has finished second and WIN. I’m on the lookout for a Fu-Man-Chu or a goatee for this week’s next hot player or Spencer Levin.
Young Guns vs Old Guns
In four tournaments to start the 2012 season, we have seen the “old”, Steve Stricker, age 44 and Mark Wilson, age 37 and the kinda-but-not-really-young-but-neither-old-just-in-their-prime-type guys like Johnson Wagner, 31 and now Brandt Snedeker, also age 31, win tournaments. When are the young guns going to break through in 2012?
That was the question asked last week and now we have the answer! Add 24 year-old Kyle Stanley to that list.
And, that’s five-for-five this season for US players winning on Tour. Good start for a Ryder Cup year!
Ben Crane: Finished second alone to hit the board in the top 10 for the third time in four starts this year. Crane’s putting, he led in strokes gained-putting and was T3 in putts per GIR, looked like the Ben Crane from the late 2000’s. He was tied for the most eagles on the week with three. Crane also tied for the lead with Bubba Watson in most hilarious attempt at firing up the crowd on 16 tee box. Some of those in the crowd probably could have used a helmet on their way home that night…
Spencer Levin: Winner of this week’s Kyle Stanley Award for throwing away a big lead on Sunday. Levin had a six-shot lead going into the final round but couldn’t muster any momentum on Sunday. His biggest putts of the day were to save pars before he made a birdie on 14 to tie the lead. He dunked his third into lake on 15 and never was a factor again. His was burning edges all day on the greens but couldn’t get any clutch putts to stop the bleeding. His first three rounds were fantastic: Only two bogeys in 54 holes and he was leading the tournament in GIR. His final round, the first time ever leading after 54 holes, was forgettable, shooting four-over 75 with four bogeys and a double. Interested to see how he reacts at Pebble where he finished T4 in 2011.
D.J. Trahan: Not all Clemson Tigers on Tour have had a very good start in 2012. Trahan, who was cut in his first two events of 2012, bolted up the leader board over the weekend. Trahan started Saturday morning on the cut line, even-par, before putting together the best weekend of the 78 who made the cut firing 64-66. Known as an excellent ball striker, it was Trahan’s putter that heated up as he finished in the top 10 in all three putting categories. Made 20 birdies as well and that was T3 for the week. Best finish since the 2010 Viking Classic (T3).
Brendan Steele: The California native and resident saved his best for Sunday as he shot the co-low round of the day seven-under par 64. After a quiet start to his 2012 season and a quiet start to the WMPO, Steele made five birdies and an eagle to zero bogeys on Sunday. He’s was T3 in pars this week to offset only making 14 birdies and an eagle. Making only one bogey on the weekend always helps! Keep an eye on him on courses where par is a good score.
Bubba Watson: The Scottsdale resident made noise this week driving his new car, The General Lee, to the course and rapping with Ben Crane on 16 tee Saturday afternoon. Sadly, for Watson, his putter also made too much noise this week. He wasn’t in the top 34 of any of the three putting categories. He was T4 GIR and finished T5 on the leader board. Can you imagine if he would just be slightly above average on the greens? Blimey.
Kevin Na: Speaking of the EXACT OPPOSITE of Bubba Watson, Na strength is not the tee to green. He makes it up by having a fantastic short game and holing everything he looks at on the greens. This week was no different as his short game led to T3 in birdies made with 20. Still has that “one round” each week that holds him back. This week, it was 73 in round two. This is Na’s first top five and top 10 of 2012.
Bo Van Pelt: Bookend rounds of 65 and 67 helped Van Pelt crack his first top 10 for 2012. Van Pelt led the field in GIR and history has shown us that if you do that here, you should have a good week. He did. His third event was much better than his first two, T54 at Humana and CUT last week at Torrey Pines.
John Rollins: After T10 in Hawaii and a T66 at Humana, I wondered which John Rollins we would see in 2012. Well, his third alone last week and his T8 this week have definitely caught my attention. Rollins’ solid putting game helped him keep his momentum going from last week. Three top 10’s in four events puts him on my radar.
Jason Dufner: The 2011 P2 was looking awfully comfortable after getting out of the gate with a seven-under 64 on Thursday. He never could recapture that momentum as the week continued but played well enough to bang out a top 10. Two weeks ago at his last start at Humana, he went low with 63 on his way to T12. CUT, T12, T8 show he’s trending in the right direction.
Webb Simpson: Looks like the two weeks off helped Simpson collect his thoughts and get back on track. He had an eventful week as he made the most birdies in the field yet was in the bottom four in pars made. He was four back at one point on Sunday before bogeying half of his closing 10 holes. An up-and-down week and he still hits the top 10.
Trevor Immelman: Finished 2011 with a fifth and T6 before opening 2012 with back-to-back 76 at Humana. In his last ten rounds on Tour, he’s not fired above 71. Immelman looks like he’s starting to round into form as shown here with a T12.
John Huh: The Q-School qualifier has put together excellent back-to-back starts with T6 last week and T12 this week. I like how Gary McCord calls him “Johnny Question Mark”. No questions about his game after the last two weeks. He only made six bogeys in his first 66 holes. Making two doubles and a bogey on his final six holes cost him a few bucks. He’ll make some more, money that is, as 2012 rolls on.
Bryce Molder: He was on my “why didn’t I rate this guy for WMPO after I gushed about him in the wrap-up last week” error list. He now has been T7, CUT, T13 and T15 this season. I’ll try and remember that writing my preview column tomorrow…
Keegan Bradley: He ground out another top 25 this week, his third consecutive of 2012. Nothing spectacular this week but I like the fact that he just keeps sniffing around each week and only has two rounds over par (of 16) this season.
Harris English: The rookie from Georgia has made the cut in all four events he’s played in 2012, just like fellow rookie Bud Cauley. Not bad for rookies. His form has been up-and-down T67, T19, T43 and T15 so based on those finishes he should make the cut next week and finish around T25. The week AFTER that, watch out! He shouldn’t be flying under the radar much longer.
Mark Wilson: The defending champion was quiet this week until Sunday when shot 64, tying the low round of the day. The putter was doing its job, but he struggled to hit GIR. Wilson finished the week with two eagles and two doubles but still was in the top 25 (T19).
Bill Haas: Making double bogey six on 18 cost Haas a few bucks and a top 12 finish. Still was T19 at the end of the day after finishing T4 last week. He’s played his last 14 rounds at par or better.
“Hey, what ever happened to…”
Rickie Fowler: Fowler finished T26 after a T13 last week in San Diego. Three double bogeys killed any momentum he was building up. There is good news for Fowler: in eight rounds is he’s not been over par. There is bad news for Fowler: he hasn’t gone lower than 68. His spring training is over and I would expect him to get moving sooner than later.
Gary Woodland: The Butch Harmon sessions are slowly but surely being digested by Woodland. The next step is finding some consistency with the flat stick. He finished T26 after T4 in GIR. He improved greatly on Sunday with his FIRST round in the 60’s (of 11 played) in 2012 after firing 66 to finish T26. Time to get back on board.
Phil Mickelson: Flew in Butch Harmon to get straightened out Saturday morning. It worked for one round as he shot 67. On Sunday, his two-over 73 kept him from making a move. So, in three events with Phil, what have we learned? T49, CUT, T26. Maybe he needs Butch more often. Now, Tiger joins the party as well next week as Phil tries to get going before taking time off.
Brandt Snedeker: Heat check was checked. After 47 birdies in his last two events, the ride had to come to an end at some point. It did when Snedeker’s putter went ice cold this week and so did his birdie total. T50.
D.A. Points: Speaking of cooling off, after a T6, T8 finish Points made plenty of birdies this week, 20 (T3), but also led the field in “others” and double bogeys. Still, he’s only been over par once in 16 rounds this year and he’ s back to defend with his new pal, Bill Murray, next week at Pebble Beach. T45.
Dustin Johnson: For the second week in a row he had his best round in the first round and tailed off this week continued. Now that he has eight rounds under his belt, I would expect his knee and back to be rounding into golf-shape. He plays one of his favorites this week at Pebble Beach where he’s won twice. T61.