Several players were chasing their first PGA Tour victories on the back nine Sunday at TPC Scottsdale, including but not limited to Graham DeLaet and Hideki Matsuyama.
Kevin Stadler, however, was the man to earn that honor as he claimed the trophy at the 2014 Phoenix Open.
Stadler tied for the lead out of the gate with back-to-back birdies that erased third-round leader Bubba Watson’s two-shot margin at the start of the day. The lead changed hands several times during their round, including a couple of two-shot swings, with the two tied at 18th tee before Stadler emerged with the win.
Here are 5 Things to know from Scottsdale.
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1. STADLER ROLLS TO WIN: Despite a handful of short putts that didn’t fall for Kevin Stadler during Sunday’s final round, including at the last, two stood out as critical to earning his first PGA Tour win. The first took place after he hit his second shot in the water at the par-5 15th, then wedged from the drop area to makeable par distance. The second was a long lag after driving the par-4 17th that he cashed in for birdie.
Perhaps Stadler didn’t overpower the field in earning his win, but he certainly outlasted it.
“It wasn’t pretty, you know,” Stadler told CBS after his round. “I was walking all over the shop. Hit a lot of good shots, a lot of kind of ugly shots, but luckily it all worked out.”
Much of the day was a two-man battle between Stadler and Watson – other than missing some short birdie tries, Stadler’s only real miscue was a double bogey at the 11th. Then Hideki Matsuyama caught Stadler at T-2. Then Hunter Mahan. Later, Graham DeLaet birdied and Watson bogeyed to create a three-way tie for the lead.
In the end, it again came down to Stadler and Watson, as both birdied the 17th to pull away from DeLaet. Stadler’s tight approach at the last and two-putt for par were enough.
“It was pretty incredible, I thought,” he told Golf Channel. “I missed a couple of makeable birdie putts on 13 and 14 . . . I thought I was going to be behind.”
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2. BUBBA BURSTS: Watson, meanwhile, lost the lead early and quickly reclaimed it with a birdie at the fourth hole. Following with four straight pars, he seemed determined to break the winless streak that has lasted nearly 22 months – dating to his 2012 Masters win.
But Watson played his last 10 holes in 2 over. An unlikely birdie putt of about 20 feet at the 17th, after a poor lag putt even considering that it was about 90 feet long, was his only saving grace down the stretch.
Though others came and went, the focus most of the day was in the final group – and Stadler vs. Watson foremost.
“That’s what we play sports for. We want a battle,” Watson told Golf Channel. “We want to compete on the highest level. That’s what we were doing today. And Kevin just ended up beating me.”
He also took to Twitter after the tourney and posted on his account, @bubbawatson: “Congrats to Stadler! #1stWin,” and, “I played solid all week, got to keep practicing! 2nd is first loser!! #GolfIsHard”
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3. PHIL DOESN’T FACTOR IN: Much was made of Phil Mickelson’s back injury that forced a WD last week at Torrey Pines. But the defending champion and product of nearby Arizona State sought treatment in Atlanta and went on to play all four rounds.
Unfortunately for the crowd favorite, Mickelson broke par just once. His even-par 71 Sunday left him T-42 at 3 under.
His round Sunday wasn’t devoid of flair, however – most notably when he birdied the famed par-3 16th amid a loud stadium environment. It atoned for his double bogey there a day earlier, which he blamed on taking too much of a diversion throwing footballs to the crowd. And that got his brother speaking out on social media.
Said Tim Mickelson, Arizona State’s men’s head golf coach, via his Twitter account, @goodwalkspoiled: “Wait, did my brother really blame me for his finish yesterday cause of the football idea? Guess its just another day as college golf coach”
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4. COMERS, GOERS IN FIGHT FOR 2ND: Mickelson wasn’t the only player overcoming back pain this week as DeLaet made it all the way to the lead despite hurting.
DeLaet finished T-2 alongside Watson, thanks to a birdie at the 18th that saw him become the clubhouse leader at 15 under, when Stadler and Watson stood on the same mark. His share of the lead disappeared when Stadler and Watson drove the green at the par-4 17th, then two-putted from another area code for birdie.
Said DeLaet after his round via his Twitter account, @GrahamDeLaet: “Thanks to everyone for all the tweets. I really appreciate all the support. If it was going to be anyone, I’m glad it was Stads.”
Several players had gotten into contention late but didn’t finish as well as DeLaet. Hunter Mahan was T-2 at 15 under before bogeying the 17th and finishing with par. Hideki Matsuyama also was T-2 at 15 under, dropping with a bogey after a long tee shot at the par-3 16th. Mahan and Matsuyama finished T-4 at 14 under. Said Mahan after the round via his Twitter account, @HunterMahan: “Congrats to Stads! Awesome stuff!”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Charles Howell III matched DeLaet’s 65 as the low round of the day; his lone bogey came at No. 8. . . . Roberto Castro and Webb Simpson shot 66 to finish T-19 at 7 under and 10th at 11 under, respectively . . . Vijay Singh and Chris Kirk went 75-76 on the weekend to finish 8 over and 5 over, respectively. . . . 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Kiradech Aphibarnrat shot 76 Sunday to fall to 2 over, T-67 with Fred Funk.