Rickie Fowler needed to win the Honda Classic more than most.
With just four wins in his past 179 PGA Tour starts, the pressure was building on one of the Tour’s most talented players to start adding trophies to his relatively bare cabinet. Even he admitted after the third round he needed to “add another trophy to my small collection.”
Some questioned his ability to convert 54-hole leads, with the telling stat of no wins from four when holding the lead on Saturday night.
He ventured onto the PGA National course on Sunday with a four-stroke lead. He moved to five in front when England’s Tyrell Hatton bogeyed the 1st hole. But Fowler then bogeyed the 4th and followed with a double-bogey at the 6th when he hit his tee shot into water. His lead was slashed to two strokes and it appeared he was following the path of previous 54-hole lead losses.
But a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-4 8th seemed to right the ship … only briefly. He handed that shot right back at the 9th hole when he failed to get up-and-down from right of the green.
Fowler’s putter then sprang into action. On the par-4 12th hole, he drained a 38-footer for birdie. At the next, he grabbed another birdie with a 23-footer. On the 16th, he jammed his second shot approach into three feet and had no trouble whatsoever converting the birdie putt.
Fowler’s tense one-shot lead had turned into a four-shot victory march within five holes on the back nine. Not even two closing bogies could spoil Fowler’s day.
The 28-year-old closed with a one over 71 to claim his first PGA Tour title in 17 months by four strokes from Morgan Hoffmann (68) and Gary Woodland (69). It was also Fowler’s first win worldwide since the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour in January 2016.
“My putter saved me,” Fowler said. “Those putts on 8, 12 and 13 … if I don’t make those, I’ve got a pretty tight race.
“It's special to be able to pull it off, and it wasn't the prettiest of ways to do it, but this isn't an easy golf course and this wasn't an easy day to go play golf on. Just had to fight through it.
“Mistakes were going to happen. Bad swings were always going to happen. You can't play a perfect round of golf.
“Just had to kind of keep moving forward, just try and get the most out of the round. You know, missing the putt on 9, I felt like that would have been nice to still have a good lead going to the back. But like I said, the putter did save me with some long birdie putts.”
Fowler still hasn’t broken par in a final round when holding the 54-hole lead, but at least he was able hold on to this victory.
“It’s nice to get the goose egg off that statistic,” said Fowler in reference to not seeing 54-hole leads through to a victory. “It was tough out there. I saw Gary was making a late run and I just had to hold on.
“I would have liked to have had a cleaner card today and played a little bit better. But I got the job done.”
Fowler’s victory will see him move back into the top-10 of the world ranking and back into the conversation regarding Masters contenders.
“This is something we needed going into Augusta,” Fowler said. “There’s less pressure, less stress. I like the spot where we’re at right now.”
Adam Scott, the defending Honda Classic Champion, finished the best of the Australians. His two under 68 saw him rise into a share of 14th at four under. Marc Leishman was two strokes back in a tie for 27th.