PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rickie Fowler didn’t care about pretty. He cared about winning.
Staked to a four-shot lead, Fowler hit one putt into a sprinkler hole and a tee shot into the water. But when his lead was cut to one shot, Fowler answered with two big birdie putts to regain control and finished off a four-shot victory in the Honda Classic.
The bogey-bogey finish kept him from setting the 72-hole record at PGA National.
That wasn’t important.
At his feet was a crystal trophy, something he hasn’t owned in 13 months even as peers like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy kept piling them up. It was Fowler’s turn Sunday.
“Whether I’m talked about with those guys or not, I just want to play the best that I can and keep pushing myself and ultimately, just keep trying to put myself in position to win and start collecting more of these,” Fowler said, tapping the trophy.
He closed with a 1-over 71 for a four-shot victory over Gary Woodland, the only player to seriously challenge him, and Morgan Hoffmann.
Fowler faced the strongest wind of the week at PGA National, and he didn’t feel as though he had control of his swing the way he did all week. But the 28-year-old kid with fashion flair still has a knack for clutch moments, whether it was the 30-foot birdie putt on No. 8, or the two winning moments – a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 12, and a 25-foot birdie putt on the 13th.
This was more substance than style.
“I didn’t play great,” Fowler said. “It wasn’t a pretty round. But we got the job done. A win is a win.”
Fowler effectively ended it with a shot over the water on the 16th to 3 feet that stretched his lead to five shots with two holes to play.
Woodland appeared to have second place wrapped up until he three-putted the 17th, and then tried to lay up on the par-5 18th and came up short into the water. He closed with another bogey for a 69. He had to share second place – the difference of $128,000 – with Hoffmann, who missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th.
PGA champion Jimmy Walker was lurking on the fringe of contention until tee shots into the water on the 15th and 17th holes, which cost him five shots.
Tyrrell Hatton of England, who played in the final group in his first PGA Tour event in Florida, was out of the picture quickly. He still had a chance to finish alone in second, which would have gone a long way toward securing a PGA Tour card, until missing a 3-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
Fowler even got into the act when it no longer mattered. He hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th hole and made bogey, then hit a wedge into the bunker on the 18th and closed with another bogey to finish at 12-under 268.
Fowler jokingly referred to his “small collection” of trophies on Saturday evening, though it was important. He had gone 13 months and 25 starts worldwide without a victory as everyone around him was winning multiple times.
It was his first PGA Tour victory since the Deutsche Bank Championship in September 2015.
A four-shot lead, which he built with two late birdies Saturday afternoon, allowed him to play smart and safe.
It just always didn’t work out that way.
He went over the green on the par-4 fourth and tried to putt it up the slope, except that it went into a sprinkler hole and led to bogey. Two holes later, Fowler hooked his tee shot into the water on the tough par-4 sixth and made double bogey.
He bounced back with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 8, only to drop another shot on the ninth.
Woodland hit wedge into 4 feet on the 13th for a birdie to get to 10 under, suddenly one shot back of Fowler. And just like that, it was over. Fowler leaned over on his putter as he watched his 40-foot on No. 12 drop into the cup, and while he went long with a wedge on the 13th, he dropped that one in from 25 feet for birdie.
Woodland had reasonable looks at birdie over the next four holes and couldn’t get any to drop. He powered his 20-foot attempt on the 17th about 6 feet by the hole, ending is last hope.
“I thought all of them looked pretty good,” he said of his birdie chances. “It was a little deflating on 18. Thought I hit a pretty good drive and thought I would have a chance, and I just couldn’t get home and laid up in the water, which was bad.”
Jhonattan Vegas made a hole-in-one on the 15th hole and closed with a 64 to tie for fourth.
Fowler’s victory and Woodland’s tie for second knocked Charles Howell III and Hudson Swafford out of the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings, keeping them from qualifying for the Mexico Championship next week, the first World Golf Championship of the year.
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