A showman for whom this kind of stage was tailored put on a show commensurate to the occasion but with an unexpected twist in the end. Rickie Fowler lost.
It didn’t seem possible when an hour earlier he was looking at a two-hole victory lap at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and further confirmation of his standing in the highest echelon of golf.
Ordinarily unflappable whatever the pressure, Fowler squandered a two-stroke lead by hitting his tee shot into a water hazard on the 17th hole at the TPC Scottsdale, then lost to Hideki Matsuyama by hitting another tee shot into the same hazard on the fourth playoff hole.
Fowler, who has climbed to fourth in the World Ranking, was seeking his fifth victory in the last nine months. He was adorned in his trademark Sunday orange, a color considered loud anywhere but in the vicinity of the raucous Phoenix Open, even on Sundays, when the crowd at the TPC Scottsdale always seems subdued relative to its renowned Saturdays.
Not this time. The decibels increased as Fowler homed in on victory. There were chants of “Rickie, Rickie, Rickie” at the notorious par-3 16th hole, where he made par, leaving him two ahead with two to play.
The 17th hole is a drivable par 4, yet Fowler inexplicably drove it through the green and into the water leading to a bogey, while Matsuyama was making birdie. At 18, Matsuyama holed an 18-foot birdie putt, followed by Fowler making a 10-footer to send it to extra holes.
After halving three playoff holes, they came to the 17th again. This time, Fowler chose a fairway wood, yet hooked his tee shot into the water, leading to a bogey and a loss that no one could have foreseen, given his form chart that included a win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship only two weeks earlier.
At least he lost to another young elite player on the rise. Matsuyama, 23, came into the Phoenix Open ranked 19th in the world and had one victory on his ledger, at the Memorial in 2014. Though he did not win in 2015, he finished in the top five on six occasions, including a tie for second in the Phoenix Open. He was fifth in the Masters and tied for 18th in both the U.S. Open and British Open.
So it wasn’t altogether surprising that he won, only that Fowler lost, more so that he did so in front of a vociferous partisan crowd that got the show it wanted, but not the ending.