The “Year of the Moustache” strikes again! Rickie Fowler defeated Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points on the first playoff hole on Sunday to win the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina for his first-ever PGA TOUR victory. This is the second week in a row on TOUR that there has been a first time winner after Jason Dufner’s victory last week in New Orleans. Fowler finished Sunday with 69 to post 14-under-par 274. D.A. Points and Rory McIlroy both followed Fowler to the playoff as they posted 71 and 70 respectively on Sunday. Webb Simpson failed to make it a four-man playoff as his birdie putt on 18 was well off the mark. Simpson finished in fourth, alone. McIlroy’s P2 finish saw him regain the no. 1 ranking in the world over Luke Donald.
Last week Jason Dufner broke a streak of 163 events without a win on TOUR. This week it was Rickie Fowler’s turn. In his only victory as professional Fowler defeated second place Rory McIlroy by six shots at the Kolon Korea Open back in October. Today, it took a playoff but the result was even better as it came on the PGA Tour. Fowler had played 71 events on TOUR before notching his first-career win this week at Quail Hollow Club and he did it in style in the playoff. After finding the fairway on 18 with his driver, Fowler hit a 51-degree wedge to about four feet. After watching Points and McIlroy make impressive two-putts for par, Fowler was still away. He calmly made birdie on one of the toughest holes on the course and the man dressed in orange was on his way to pick up some serious green.
Fowler entered this week seventh in total driving and that drove him to the winner’s circle this week. Fowler was T2 in driving accuracy which resulted in T5 GIR over the four rounds. Fowler also finished at respectable T21 in putts per GIR which lead to 22 birdies, good enough for second-most made during the week. Fowler also kept his nerve on “The Green Mile” as he played the final three holes just one-over par for the four rounds. And if you include the one he made on the first playoff hole, he was even-par.
Rickie Fowler had always been labeled as “can’t miss” as he came up through the ranks and in college at Oklahoma State. After 71 career events, his was also in the discussion of “best player who has never won”. He has been chided on Twitter about his #gotime tweets before rounds. He has been chided for his wardrobe, colors, hats, belts, facial hair, hair, you name it. Watch how quickly that criticism fades away now that he has backed that style with substance.
Seeing Fowler (born December 1988) and McIlroy (born May 1989) in a playoff reminds us that the game of golf is in good hands. Oh, and Webb Simpson (born August 1985), who finished fourth alone ain’t exactly a crusty veteran either!
Fowler, whose moustache is only second on TOUR to Johnson Wagner’s, has no chance of shaving after his win this week. Wagner remarked this week Fowler’s moustache needs help and that he looks like Captain Jack Sparrow. Wagner now has company at the top for best player with a moustache in 2012. Does Wagner go handlebar now? Does he shave it off now that the magic has been passed on? Don’t worry, I’ll keep you up-to-date as this story develops.
Rickie Fowler joins fellow “Golf Boys” Bubba Watson (the Masters) and Hunter Mahan (WGC-Match Play and SHO) with wins in 2012. I’m putting every dollar I own on Ben Crane next week, obviously…
Déjà vu All Over Again?
The last 11 of 19 players (Hunter Mahan has won twice) who led after 54 holes on Tour have lost the lead in the final round. Webb Simpson now makes it 12 of the last 20 as he began the day with a one-shot lead over Ryan Moore and D.A. Points. Rickie Fowler began the day three-shots back before winning in a playoff. This is the fourth time in 10 events at Quail Hollow Club that the 54 hole leader has failed to hold his lead on Sunday.
It’s now back-to-back weeks on TOUR for first-time American winners as Rickie Fowler followed Jason Dufner into victory lane this week. Fowler had had finished T16 in 2011 and T6 in 2010 in his only other two appearances at Quail Hollow Club so another high finish was not necessarily a surprise. Heading into this week Fowler only had hit the top 10 twice in 11 events as he was slowly but surely adjusting to his new equipment so winning might have been a surprise. After finishing CUT at RBC, Fowler has played his last eight rounds at par or better. No wonder why he’s hit the top 10 and WON in those starts.
Rickie Fowler joins Anthony Kim (2008) and Rory McIlroy (2010) to make the WFC their first-career TOUR victory.
With this victory, Rickie Fowler earns $1,117,000 and 500 FedExCup points. Fowler is now 15th in the FedExCup standings, trailing leader Hunter Mahan.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 20 tournaments this season the “Young versus Old” argument now stands at 10-8-2 as Rickie Fowler cashes for the “Young” crew.
For the “young”, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24) and Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29), Rory McIlroy (22), Justin Rose (31) and now Rickie Fowler (23) lead the way for the Young guys.
Mark Wilson (37) is joined by George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34) and Jason Dufner (35) in the “middle”.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are flying the flag for the “old” folks on Tour.
Fowler’s win makes it three on the bounce for the U.S.A. crew and six of the last eight on Tour heading back to Luke Donald’s win at TC.
Rory McIlroy: The birthday boy (Friday, May 4) celebrated his return to no. 1 in the world in the OWGR rankings but he’ll be disappointed that he didn’t win again at Quail Hollow this week. McIlroy made a tournament-best 23 birdies but it was his four-over-par on “The Green Mile” for the week that he’ll look back on with disdain. McIlroy routinely was driving the ball over 330 yards, nailing GIR (T5) and was 17th in strokes gained-putting. Those numbers usually mean victory but it was not to be this week as he couldn’t make a putt on regulation to win and his birdie attempt in the playoff, after a loose wedge shot, was off the mark as well. Let’s review his five events this season: second, WIN, third, T40 and now P2. That’s why McIlroy should be an automatic in any format when he tees it up.
D.A. Points: The “forgotten man” in the playoff with the youngsters also had a chance to win the golf tournament in regulation with a par on 18. Points had gone 40 holes without a bogey as he stood on 18 tee with a chance to win. Guess what happened on the 41st hole? Yep, bogey. The driver that was so accurate for him for most of the week (T6 driving accuracy) didn’t find the fairway on 18. Points co-led the field in GIR but his second on 18 found the bunker. Unable to get it up and down, Points only made his fourth bogey of the week. Points began the Florida swing quite well with a T12 at Honda. He backed that effort up with T63, CUT, CUT, T20, CUT and now P2 this week. In five previous outings here, Points was CUT four times and his only finish was T63. Well done if you had him in your line-up this week!
Webb Simpson: The man who is a member at Quail Hollow Club made it look like that was going to be a huge advantage as he rolled into Sunday with a one-shot lead at 14-under. Sadly for Simpson he couldn’t keep the momentum rolling on Sunday and finished fourth alone after his birdie try on 18 to join the playoff wasn’t close. Simpson, after T36, T44 and T52 finishes bookending the Masters, showed that he is close to being back at his 2011 level with a T13 last week and T4 this week. Simpson was very “Simpson” this week as he T11 in GIR and finished top 13 in all three putting categories. Considering Simpson was T69 in driving accuracy, that’s excellent iron play and putting to finish T4. Simpson’s chances went down the drain when he missed a six-footer for par on 16. Luckily, it wasn’t a three-putt so he maintains his tour-leading 200-something holes in a row without a three-putting.
Lee Westwood: The world’s no. 3 player started off quietly on course where he’s not had previous successes as he made the cut on the number. It took a birdie on 17 on par on the difficult 18th on Friday to make it happen. Once the weekend hit, Westwood, like the weather, started to heat up. Westwood played the weekend 10-under and shot all the way up the leader board to T5 early Sunday afternoon. His normally steady tee ball was a bit crooked but his always steady iron play returned to full-form as he hit 78% of greens on the weekend. After winning half a world away last week and losing his caddy to a knee-injury, Westwood showed some chops rallying on the weekend to hit the top five for the fourth time in six starts in 2012.
Ben Curtis: I opined in my preview column that I hoped I wasn’t late to the Ben Curtis party. Luckily, I jumped on this week and Curtis did the rest. Using the same formula as he did for the last two weeks, hit it straight off the tee and make putts, Curtis finished T5 this week. Curtis birdied five of his last six holes to continue his excellent play on TOUR. Curtis finished the week T9 in driving accuracy and T7 in strokes gained-putting. His target golfing could come in handy next week at THE PLAYERS.
Ryan Moore: The roller coaster that is Ryan Moore continued to roll in the right direction for the second week in a row. After beginning the Florida swing with 76th at Honda, CUT at TC, T4 API, 88TH SHO, T8 VTO and now T5 this week. Moore began the day one shot behind Simpson but never created any momentum as he closed with 74. Moore had only made four bogeys in the first three rounds before carding three on Sunday to thwart his challenge. His putter was on fire as he finished fifth in strokes gained-putting. After back-to-back top 10’s, Moore will be on the radar next week at THE PLAYERS.
Nick Watney: Welcome back to the Sunday wrap-up column, Nick! After CUT, T32, T59 and T51 in his last four starts before Quail Hollow, gamers from coast-to-coast are rejoicing after Watney’s eighth-place finish this week. After 36 holes, Watney had equaled the tournament record of 12-under-par 132. On the weekend Watney regressed to 72-74 to finish 10-under. His putter rebounded to finish T14 strokes gained-putting and he was T11 GIR. Watney could have made some noise except that he dunked in the water twice on number seven on Sunday. Not only did the triple bogey knock three shots off his card, hole number seven ranked as one of the easiest holes played all week. Is Watney “back”? I have no idea but it is his first top 10 in a full-field stroke-play event (FFSP) of 2012. That’s a start and music to the ears of gamers who have been patiently waiting for him to fire.
Jonathan Byrd: Byrd officially moves into the “horse for course” category at Quail Hollow Club with his T9 finish this year. He now has T9, P2, T5 to go along side his six CUTS at this event. His numbers look better when I just go back four years, T9, P2, CUT and T5! This was Byrd’s first top 10 in six events going back to his T8 at NTO in February.
Jason Day: The Aussie made his return after WD at the Masters in April with his first top 10 since The Tour Championship. His ankle is finally healed and his putter looks to be in mid-season form as Day finished the week fourth, T3 and third in the three major putting categories to offset his T58 GIR. Not a bad way to announce your return to the TOUR with a T9. He will also make season-long gamers happy that he has returned to the lineup.
Brian Davis: The Englishman’s excellent run of play continued this week as he hit the top 10 (T9) for the third time in five outings. The other two starts were T13 and T39 so if you’ve been riding Davis over the last couple of months, you have been rewarded. Davis led the field this week in two distinct categories: Double bogeys and putts per GIR. He made three doubles on Friday and still finished in the top 10 because he made 21 birdies, third most, to only four bogeys. I’m worn out just typing that.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Tiger Woods: For the eighth time in his career Woods missed the cut. That’s a great stat unless you played him this week…In our “what have you done for me lately” world; the answer in the last two events from Woods is, for fantasy golf purposes, nothing. Here’s what I know: I don’t know anything. Woods looked great at API in his victory and then he didn’t break par at Augusta in four rounds. He shoots one under on Thursday yet can’t shoot par to make the cut at Quail Hollow on Friday. I can’t continue to have blind faith that he’s going to play well in the next event just because he played poorly in consecutive events. There are too many solid players on TOUR that are PLAYING better than Woods at the moment. We don’t gain any points/earnings/bragging rights in the fantasy world based on past performance. It’s time to start treating Woods like any other player. That was hard to type but sadly it’s true.
Phil Mickelson: Mickelson hit the ball great off the tee and was T5 GIR but his putter was the club that held him back this week. Mickelson did make 19 birdies (T7) but he also carded 10 bogeys and triple to see him finish T26. Any chance of a rally was shot down Sunday with bogeys on three, four and five. In nine events at Quail Hollow, this is only the second time that Mickelson has finished outside the top 12. We’ll chalk this up to a blip on the radar.
Hunter Mahan: The only two-time winner on TOUR in 2012 had a quiet week in his first tournament since finishing T12 at the Masters. This has been Mahan’s longest duration of time between tournaments in 2012 so I wouldn’t panic moving forward. The good news for Mahan is that he led the tournament in pars. The bad news for Mahan was he was second-to-last in putts per GIR. The “Golf Boys” have been on fire in 2012 and look for Mahan’s excellent ball striking to return the next time out.
Keegan Bradley: Since back-to-back top 10’s at WGC-CC at Doral and SHO, Bradley has finished T27 at the Masters, CUT Zurich and CUT this week. It’s time to be concerned in fantasy land. Bradley has been missing fairways, missing greens and the putter has gone ice cold in the last two outings. The youngster just might be hitting a wall after playing so well for so long. Three in a row is a streak.
Bill Haas: A few of you have inquired why I have omitted Haas in my rankings for the last three tournaments. The simple fact is he has not been playing well since his playoff victory over Mickelson and Bradley at NTO. After his victory, his best FFSP event was T29 API. The next three events after that have been T37, CUT and CUT this week. Haas is an excellent young player who’s mired in a slump, no more, no less. If you look at his 2011, he went through almost the exact same streak during this time of the year. The only difference was he broke it with T4 at Quail Hollow last year.