Overcoming a world-class adversary and galleries who wanted his foe to win, the mettlesome Hideki Matsuyama notched his second PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Matsuyama matched Rickie Fowler with a four-under 67 in the final round to finish at 14 under par and defeated Fowler in a sudden-death playoff with a par on the fourth extra hole at the par-four 17th at TPC Scottsdale.
Here is a look at the top performers from the action in Scottsdale, Arizona:2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open Leaderboard, Top Payouts
After hitting his driver in the water at No. 17 in regulation to leave the door open for Matsuyama, Fowler once again hit it in the hazard in the playoff—this time short and left of the green, per the PGA Tour:— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR)
The golf gods smiled on Fowler as he stood on the last tee tied with Matsuyama at 13 under par. His drive skipped out of the intimidating bunkers down the left and into the middle of the fairway:
Matsuyama finds the fairway. Fowler?— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR)
Matsuyama had previously piped his ball, setting up a sort of closest-to-the-pin contest with wedges for all the marbles. The Japanese sensation drained his putt from 17 feet, forcing Fowler in a must-make situation, where he rose to the occasion from just inside 10 feet.
Justin Ray of Golf Channel had a noteworthy anecdote to add to the epic scene as Matsuyama and Fowler traded birdie barbs on the 18th green:
Hideki Matsuyama: 17'8" made putt for birdie at 18
Rickie Fowler: 9'6" made putt for birdie at 18
Longest made putt of day for both players— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC)
Thanks to a stupendous short game, the young American overcame a poor second to salvage par and match Matsuyama's routine four thanks to a classy chip, which brought the pair back to the 18th tee for a third time on the day:
Rickie Fowler's chip for birdie ...— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR)
It was rather fitting that the tournament would end on No. 17, where 27-year-old Fowler found the water in regulation and let Matsuyama back into the hunt with an untimely bogey:
Trouble for Fowler.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR)
No Laying Up put into context the quality of the shot Fowler hit to reach the trouble the first time around:
It's 358 yards to reach the water over the 17th green and Fowler just did that.— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp)
Shane Ryan of Paste was a bit more critical of Fowler's course management on what should have been a relatively easy par:— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere)
After sharing the lead through 18 holes, Fowler wasn't as superb in the subsequent two rounds and entered Sunday three shots behind another rising young gun in Danny Lee.
But the 25-year-old Lee stumbled out of the gates with two bogeys in his first three holes and another at the par-three seventh. The opening nine saw Fowler turn in a one-under 34 to match his other playing competitor, Matsuyama.
ESPN's Jason Sobel referenced the giant spectacle overshadowing what was nevertheless an exciting event on the sports calendar:
Five-way tie for the lead in Phoenix. Easily the biggest sports story of the day.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN)
A big turning point came when Fowler chipped in a birdie from the rough on the par-four 10th for a boost of momentum:
Rickie Fowler is now alone atop the @WMPhoenixOpen leaderboard. #QuickHits— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR)
As was the case all week, Fowler capitalized on the subsequent two par fives at Nos. 13 and 15 with birdies to separate himself from the pack for a while. He went 12 under on par fives for the tournament.
Thanks to a massive 344-yard drive at the 15th and a fine 5-iron approach, a routine two-putt from 25 feet away got Fowler two clear of Matsuyama, who couldn't get up and down for birdie from short of the green.
Fox Sports' Shane Bacon commented on Fowler's boomers with the big stick:
When did Rickie Fowler become Dustin Johnson off the tee? Dude is CARRYING it 315+.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon)
Not only did Fowler have the fortitude to match Matsuyama's birdie on the 72nd hole, but he also had enough mental resolve to continue staying alive late.
Just as tough was Matsuyama, who was forced to match Fowler in the playoff with a birdie on the second playoff hole:
Hideki with the answer!— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR)
Fowler already ranked fourth in the world following his triumph at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, this latest strong outing by the 27-year-old should dismiss any questions as to whether he is a legitimately elite player.
The only thing Fowler lacks on his resume to place him among the likes of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day is a major championship. That figures to be coming sooner rather than later, considering Fowler finished in the top five in all four majors during 2014.
Not a slouch in his own right, though, Matsuyama has another stateside win to add to his maiden victory at the Memorial Tournament from 2013—and now has a 2-0 playoff record.
Matsuyama is only 23 years old and was 19th in the world rankings. Putting has been the biggest impediment to him accomplishing more to date, but with some of the clutch rolls he had Sunday, perhaps this will be a building point for Matsuyama to ascend into the conversation among golf's biggest stars—just as Fowler has of late.
The victory is Matsuyama's first worldwide since late in 2014 at the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour. It's possible the floodgates will open for Matsuyama now that he's broken through after a rather lengthy drought for a player of his caliber.