The 2016 edition of the Waste Management Phoenix Open has now finished and it was the young Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama who managed to walk away with the victory. Matsuyama played very well and merits his title, but when the tournament was forced into a playoff round that pit the 23-year old against the fourth best-ranked player in the game, Rickie Fowler, the majority of fans and spectators were expecting the Californian to finish the job and continue his excellent start to 2016. Unfortunately for Fowler, it wasn’t to be as Matsuyama pulled away on the fourth hole of the playoff.
Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth are the three best-ranked players in the sport of golf, but many fans have recently started to believe that Rickie Fowler could disrupt the trio’s success in 2016. Fowler has kicked off the year in excellent fashion with a fifth place finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, swiftly followed by a win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
His victory at that event was very impressive, especially given some of the players he was up against. Going into the Phoenix Open, Fowler was a clear favorite and very nearly came close to adding another trophy to his collection.
How Matsuyama Forced the Playoff
With just two holes left to play, Fowler had a comfortable two-shot lead. Plenty of friends and family members, including the player’s father and grandfather, were in attendance along with over 600,000 other spectators. A huge number of those spectators were cheering for Fowler, who has developed quite a strong following all around the nation. However, it was at the 17th hole where things started to go wrong. Interestingly enough, this hole was statistically one of the easiest of the week and certainly the easiest of that final day.
Unfortunately for Fowler, he didn’t find it quite as easy as some of his rivals. The hole was par 4 but Fowler’s initial drive left his ball in the drink. From there, he struggled to see out the hole and finished up with a bogey. Meanwhile, Matsuyama managed to get a birdie which leveled out the scores.
The pair went on to play a dramatic 18th hole, with both of them knowing that they were playing for the win. Under pressure, Fowler and Matsuyama birdied to send the tournament into a playoff round, with the Japanese player later stating that his birdie putt was one of the finest he had ever hit.
The playoff round saw the players remain on the 18th hole to begin with, where they both got birdies once again. They then parred the 18th hole one more time and did the same on the 10th. Finally, they would return to the decisive 17th hole. Perhaps Fowler had a few extra nerves on this hole because of what had previously happened, and he again hit his ball into the water. This mistake led to him earning another bogey, while Matsuyama secured victory by parring the hole.
The American broke into tears at the end of play, being particularly disappointed that his father and grandfather were unable to see him claim a win. He was also naturally upset to have let such a good lead slip and will surely be looking back at that 17th hole with plenty of regrets. In post-game interviews, Fowler said that he felt as though the win was within his grasp.
He also added that the presence of his family and friends was a blessing. He was glad for their support and was able to seek comfort from them after the loss, but he was understandably distressed to have lost in such a fashion with his nearest and dearest watching on.
In stark contrast, Matsuyama was naturally all-smiles after the tournament. He was very glad to have won just his second PGA tournament, and fans will now be expecting more great things from this young man as the season continues. Matsuyama added that an element of luck was involved in his win, stating that nobody was expecting Fowler’s initial drive on the 17th hole to end up in the drink.
After that moment, the Japanese player saw an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands, playing very well to secure the win. Matsuyama also expressed sympathy for Fowler. He admitted that almost the entire crowd was cheering for the American and that it was a difficult way for his tournament to come to an end.
This year’s Phoenix Open was certainly an interesting one. Much of the pre-tournament talk was about the course’s famous 16th hole, with few fans expecting the 17th to play such an influential role. Still, history shows that this hole has been important in the past and will surely continue to shape future editions of this event. Despite not winning this time, Fowler has a good record at the Phoenix Open. He finished in the top 4 and top 2 in the last couple of years and will surely be back in 2017 to try and make up for his errors.