Bubba Watson holed a bunker shot for eagle on the 72nd hole of the WGC-HSBC Champions to force a playoff, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to win - all after going bogey-double bogey to lose his lead. Was this the best finish of 2014? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in:
By RYAN LAVNER
Sure, we had to watch while peeking through our fingers, but Martin Kaymer’s unexpectedly exciting finish at The Players was the best of the year, non-major division. By that point you may have even turned off the coverage – after all, Kaymer was staked to a three-shot lead with 4 1/2 holes to play, and the horn had just sounded to suspend action. But when he returned to the course, mentally unprepared, all hell broke loose.
His hooked tee shot on 15 led to a double. His sloppy work around the green cost him a would-be easy birdie on 16. And on the island 17th, his tee shot took a weird bounce on the rain-softened green and sucked back near the bulkhead, and he needed to hole a 27-foot par putt – the Putt of the Year – just to stay one clear and head to one of the most daunting tee shots in golf. After a macho drive down the middle, he got up-and-down from short of the green to secure his wire-to-wire victory, capture his first PGA Tour title since 2010 and set up his blowout at the U.S. Open.
Jitters? Check. Clutch shots? Yep. A sigh of relief at the end? You bet. The Players was the best non-major finish of the year.
By JASON SOBEL
The ending to this year’s Shell Houston Open sounded like a far-fetched movie script.
Journeyman golfer is chasing one of the world’s best, a proven winner. Needing to make a 46-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation just to force a playoff, he does it. Then on the first playoff hole, he misses the green – only to chip in and win his first career PGA Tour title in dramatic fashion.
Oh, and it also afforded him the last spot in the Masters field, being contested just a few days later.
Matt Jones’ journey to the victory circle might sound too good to be true, but instead it qualified as the best finish of the 2014 calendar year.
Maybe in the Hollywood version, Jones will go on to win the green jacket, too.
By REX HOGGARD
At first blush Rory McIlroy’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has the look of little more than an entertaining interlude wedged between the Northern Irishman’s major championship march, but of all McIlroy’s accomplishments in 2014 it was arguably the most compelling.
Fresh off his breakthrough at the Open Championship, McIlroy began the final round three shots behind Sergio Garcia and among the year’s most impressive leaderboard.
Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Brandt Snedeker were all in contention on Sunday at Firestone Country Club, but it was McIlroy who began his round with birdies at four of his first five holes and played textbook prevent defense down the stretch to clip El Nino by two strokes.
While his victories at the Open and the following week’s PGA Championship received more attention, McIlroy’s Bridgestone breakthrough was his first triumph at a World Golf Championships event and propelled him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
It was also quintessential Rory, with the Ulsterman finding nine of 14 fairways on Day 4 while leading the field in driving distance and greens in regulation (15 of 18).
The Bridgestone Invitational will end up being a footnote to McIlroy’s dominant season, but it was the year’s most impressive finish – non-major division.
By RANDALL MELL
Russell Henley survived the calamity across PGA National to win the Honda Classic back in March. In a back-nine Sunday struggle fraught with so many nervy, misfired shots, the finish felt like it was for something more important than a regular Tour title.
The four players who made the playoff didn’t look like they needed caddies as much as they needed EMTs with so much trouble lying in wait on the Champions Course. Henley, Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer all coughed up chances to win in regulation. McIlroy couldn’t hold his 54-hole lead in a disappointing final round, but he made the finish thrilling with a spectacular 5-wood at the 72nd hole to set up an eagle chance to win from 11 feet. He missed and ultimately Henley prevailed with a birdie at the first playoff hole.
By WILL GRAY
Sure, it happened in the middle of the night during a month usually reserved for football tailgating. But the finish this past week at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China was not only thrilling – it was the best of 2014 outside the majors.
Consider the cast of contenders: three major champions in Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer; the bridesmaid of 2014, Rickie Fowler; and even a traditional underdog in Hiroshi Iwata. Six players teed off the final hole Sunday within a shot of the lead, and the reachable par-5 proved to be the perfect backdrop for a dramatic conclusion.
Watson ultimately won the event in a playoff over Tim Clark, himself already a PGA Tour winner this season. While his birdie on the first extra hole earned him the trophy, the more memorable shot from Watson will be the one that got him into the playoff: a lengthy, downhill bunker shot that found the bottom of the cup for an eagle on the final hole of regulation.
A dramatic hole-out and eagle-birdie finish to cap a victory when no fewer than five other players had a chance to win on the final hole? Yeah, I’d say that’s a decent way to end a tournament.