PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – You can’t script drama like The Players Championship delivered late Sunday afternoon at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.
You can build a fabulous amphitheater, you can give players a dazzling stage, but then all you can do is stand back and watch them improvise.
What Rickie Fowler and Co. dreamed up will go down as a classic.
Fowler helped turn the course Pete Dye built on a swamp all those years ago into sport’s real Field of Dreams.
For more than two hours, Fowler and a brilliant supporting cast gave us drama almost as magical as that imagined in the fictional Iowa cornfield author Ray Kinsella created in his popular book that was turned into a movie. In fact, if Kinsella had written this finish to The Players, we might have seen Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead in the shadows tipping their caps to Fowler.
Maybe even high fiving each other.
That’s how ridiculously over the top Fowler’s finish was.
“Obviously, an amazing finish,” Sergio Garcia said.
Fowler won on the fourth hole of Sunday’s playoff making birdie after hitting a gap wedge to 4 feet and 8 inches at the par-3 17th.
He played the famed island hole three times on Sunday and birdied it all three times, twice in the playoff.
He played the final six holes of regulation in 6 under par.
Fowler birdied 15, eagled 16, birdied 17 and birdied 18 in regulation to get in a playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, whose terrific finishes were reduced to footnotes.
Counting the playoff, Fowler played his final 10 holes in 8 under.
Kinsella doesn’t dream up stuff like that.
“Obviously, he’s not overrated,” Kisner said. “I think he proved that today.”
With the week starting amid a buzz over a player survey naming Fowler and Ian Poulter as the PGA Tour’s most overrated players, Fowler conceded he had some extra motivation if he needed “a kick in the butt” this weekend. What he did is kick everyone else’s butt.
“I didn't vote for Rickie as most overrated,” Billy Horschel said. “You can put me down for that. I don't know what people were thinking about when they thought he was overrated. He's such a humble guy and such a good guy, he doesn't brag about anything he does. I guess the only unfortunate thing for him is that the media hypes him up a lot because he is really talented.”
At 26, Fowler might have been criticized for falling short of expectations coming into this week with just his one PGA Tour title, but he spent Sunday exceeding what anybody could have expected over Dye’s finishing holes. Fowler hit more clutch shots in two hours than most of his peers will hit in an entire season.
The first time through the par-5 16th, Fowler carved a 3-wood from 240 yards around the lake, dropping his shot inches beyond the water. He watched it softly hop to 2 feet to set up his eagle.
Then Fowler marched to the 17th and hit wedge to 7 feet for birdie, and then he marched to the 18th, where he striped a 330-yard drive down the middle, setting up yet another birdie. He posted his 67 to get to 12 under an hour before the final group finished.
Fowler owned the island hole on Sunday. He eliminated Kisner in the end with that shot to 4 feet.
“A sick shot,” Kisner said.
The finish couldn’t have been more perfect for Fowler with his mother and sister scrambling back from the airport to see the playoff.
His mother, Lynn, and his sister, Taylor, were staying in villas near the course. They had a Mother’s Day lunch with Rickie and his girlfriend, Alexis Randock, and shortly after they headed to the Jacksonville Airport to catch a United flight home.
Lynn said they had checked their baggage at about 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. flight when she received a text message as they were heading to the security lines.
“It got a text saying Rickie just stuck it to 2 feet at the 16th,” Lynn said. “We figured we should get back.”
There was a challenge getting back. Lynn and Taylor weren’t alone. Their arms were still full after checking in with Lynn’s two shih tzus. Still, she called PGA Tour’s transportation company, and she was told there were cars still there at the airport. A valet whisked a car over.
“Taylor jumped in the driver’s seat, and we threw the dogs in the car,” Lynn said.
Throughout the drive back to the golf course, Lynn busily texted friends for updates.
“I don’t follow social media,” Lynn said.
Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, let Rickie know his mom and sister were on their way back as he waited for the playoff. Lynn and Taylor arrived in time to see the playoff begin. Rickie said he had no doubt they would.
“Taylor can handle herself behind the wheel,” Rickie said. “We both grew up riding and racing dirt bikes. She can manage.”
Rickie paid special tribute to his mother at the trophy presentation, but Lynn said she wanted him to know the day was special for other reasons.
“I know it’s Mother’s Day, but I texted him this morning telling him this was his day,” Lynn said. “I said `Do this for you.’”
Fowler delivered a classic finish for golf fans everywhere.