American Kevin Stadler fired a final round three-under-par 68 to post 16-under 268 to win for the first time on the PGA TOUR Sunday afternoon at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course. Stadler’s par on the 72nd hole left him one shot ahead of 54-hole leader Bubba Watson and Canadian Graham DeLaet, who tied for second on 269.
Stadler began Sunday two shots behind 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson as he was searching for his first victory on TOUR. He found the lead after blistering the front side for 31 to reach 17-under but nerves started to creep in as his tee shot found the cacti on No. 12. After his double knocked him out of the lead, he regrouped to rattle off five straight pars to keep the pressure on Watson. Both players made par from the water on No. 15 to keep the momentum going and both players drove the green for two-putt birdies on No. 17. Stadler had 238 other events in his back pocket to summon experience but it wasn’t until Watson couldn’t get up-and-down on the final hole that his victory, his first ever, was secured.
The key to his victory this week was Stadler had a fantastic week ball-striking and scoring. His steady play, rounds of 65-68-67-68, were the byproduct of pasting fairways and thumping greens in regulation. The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident spends plenty of time on the range at TPC Scottsdale’s practice facility and it showed with his ball-striking this week. He was T10 in fairways and GIR and this led to 22 birdies, T2 for the week, and only four bogeys (and one double noted above). The long putter suggests that rolling the rock isn’t the preferred part of Young Walrus’s but his gutty two-putt for 80-something feet on No. 17 showed he was dialed in when it counted; His miss from 10 feet on the final hole gave Bubba Watson a window to send the tournament to extra holes. Watson’s par putt missed and in his 239th event, salary cap gamers were finally paid off.
This was Stadler’s fifth consecutive WMPO. The first three tournaments he had exactly two rounds in the 60s and was T70, MC and T70. Last year, he fired four rounds in the 60s to finish -16 but that was only good for T11. This year, his four rounds in the 60s led to 16-under par and his first career victory. Stadler began the 2013-14 season with finishes of T30 or better, including a T10 at McGladrey but was T78 his last time out at Humana with his final two rounds in the 70s. Gamers have patiently waited for him to come good as he has represented “value” in salary cap leagues. He’s usually playing 25 events and usually racking up some top 10s and top 25s. He’s the quintessential roster-filler. Now, he’s a TOUR winner and will play in the Masters with his dad, the 1982 champ, as he tees it up for the final time. This will be the first time ever that a father-son combo tees it up in Augusta and this is the first father-son combo TOUR winners since Jay and Bill Haas in 2010.
With this victory, Stadler collects $1,116,000, 500 FedExCup points and, as mentioned above, a trip to Augusta with his dad. That’s pretty cool anyway you cut it. He’ll also see Kapalua for the first time in 2015.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won the first 11 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (2), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings and Kevin Stadler have hoisted the trophies this season.
Kevin Stadler joins Jimmy Walker as the only first-time winners in 2013-14. There were 12 first-timers in 2013.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. For the second week in a row the 54-hole leader did not finish the deal. Bubba Watson is now 1-8 in his career with the lead entering Sunday. For the season, six of the 11 54-hole leaders have not held up their end of the bargain. #gottaplayall72
Since 1998, only three non-Americans have won at WMPO.
Kevin Stadler joins Kyle Stanley (2012), J.B. Holmes (2006), Jonathan Kaye (2004) and Jesper Parnevik (1998) as the players to claim their first TOUR win at the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale.
Phil Mickelson teed it up and showed no signs of having back problems. Heck, he was chucking footballs into the stands on No. 16 on Saturday! Phil finished T42 so Johnny Miller is still the last player to defend here (1974-75).
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
This is the part of the column where I list the winners and their age. Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and was joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua and now Kevin Stadler (33). Scott Stallings, 28, Patrick Reed (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29) and Harris English, (24) as the twenty-somethings on the board. The Young Guns now have six of 11 wins to start the season. Greg Chalmers, 40, finished T15 for the “old” guys.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10
Bubba Watson: The former Scottsdale resident still keeps a house in town but has since moved to Orlando. When he was “home” for the week he was busy giving back to charity and almost winning his fifth PGA TOUR but first since his green jacket in 2012. In 2013 Watson saw the weekend in 18 of 21 events but only cashed $1.7 million, his lowest output since 2009 ($1.4 million). Salary gamers who loaded up on him for this season have seen him cash in all four events with T31, T8, T23 and T2 this week. We saw the full Monty from him on the back nine Sunday. Big drives. Balls in the water. Missed putts. Made putts. Strange decisions. #bubbagolf. He brings the full package that can drive gamers crazy or drive them to elation. The key to his week was his putting, minus the final hole. He was third in putts per GIR after finishing just T25 in greens hit. Usually, he’s automatic hitting fairways and greens but his flat stick racked up 22 birdies against only six bogeys. Watson should be on the short list, putting or no putting, as he’s hit the top 10 three times in eight tries including two of the last three years.
Graham DeLaet: More proof that his previous history has absolutely nothing to do with where his game is now, GDL finished T2 after a T55 and two MCs at Scottsdale. His T2 is the second week in a row that he’s saved my Yahoo! bacon and collected a very nice check. Unlike Stadler and Watson, he could not save par on No. 15 on Sunday after finding the drink but he did rally to post the clubhouse lead after birdies on Nos. 17 and 18. He fired 12-under on the weekend and led the field in GIR and was sixth in strokes gained-putting. Don’t be surprised if he’s the next first-time winner on TOUR and don’t be surprised if I’m out of Yahoo! starts on him come May. #GiddyUpAgainThisWeek.
Hunter Mahan: The 2010 champ has posted 25 of 30 rounds at par or better and he added four more this week as he finished T4. Mahan led the field with 23 birdies but a loose, three-putt bogey on No. 17 and a missed GIR on No. 18 saw him finish two shots back. His first tournament of 2014 last week saw him finish T47 at Torrey and he didn’t break par but this week he was T7 in fairways, T12 GIR and second in strokes gained-putting. He’s close and he likes this track.
Hideki Matsuyama: The wrist is healed and the beast is released. He’s played 11 weekends on TOUR and has hit the top 25 NINE times. I GIVE UP. I’m no longer over-thinking this. Wrist problem? Who cares! WDs? Again, get over it, he’s going to cash! He’s 21 and most of these courses he’s never seen before. He is legit. He only made five bogeys this week and found 19 birdies. Imagine when he starts holing putts! Get on board, folks.
Charles Howell III: Charley Three Sticks has been right on schedule as he is a CASH COW in the cold months on TOUR. His T6 gives him 70 top 10s in 399 starts in his career but it’s only his second top 10 in 13 starts in Phoenix. He hasn’t had a round over par here since 2009 when he MC. This is his second T6 or better in his last five years. He’s nine-for-nine this season with five top 10s. #ChaChing
Brendan Steele: If you bought into the “horse-for-course” theory this week, Steele should have been on the top of your list after finishes of T5 in 2012 and T6 last year. His T6 this year makes it three straight T6 or better. Steele saved my bacon in the Golf Channel game as he was my group four selection. His 62 on Saturday was the low round of the week and his T6 was his best finish since his solo fourth at Reno-Tahoe last August. This was his third top 25 in seven starts in the new season. I’ll keep an eye on him on courses where he excels.
Ryan Moore: He’s on a tear this year and is showing no signs of slowing down as he hits the top 10 for the fourth time in six starts with T6 this week. He couldn’t back up his 64 on Saturday with another low one but he won’t be disappointed with another top 10. Moore’s game was steady as he was T13 in fairways, T12 in GIR and 18th in strokes gained-putting. Like Mahan, he doesn’t hit it very far but it hardly matters with the rest of his skill set. The Seattle native is currently enjoying the Super Bowl. He backed up his T4 last year with T6 and that is his third top 10 in his last six tries in this desert.
Harris English: Here’s another player that I won’t have any starts in the Yahoo game come April unless I figure on saving him for down the road. There’s no need if he’s going to constantly put up low rounds and high finishes. His double-bogey seven on No. 15 knocked him back but his birdie on No. 18 saw him finish ninth alone. He now has four top 10 in eight events this season. Similar to GDL, we can throw English’s course histories out the window. He’s long, accurate and can putt. #TotalPackage
Webb Simpson: He hardly hit any fairways or greens but he made everything he looked at to finish 10th. His 67-66 weekend only had two bogeys, both on Saturday, and he was happy to have regular caddy Paul Tesori back on his bag. In five tournaments this season, Simpson has hit the top 10 four times including his win in Las Vegas. After missing out last year, Simpson has finishes of T8, T8 and 10th in his last three trips to Scottsdale. #DesertLife