[PHOTO: Christian Petersen]
Nick Taylor is gaining a massive reputation for sinking clutch putts, and after a super display at the WM Phoenix Open, that reputation has become ironclad. And while nothing can top his legendary 72-foot bomb to win last year’s Canadian Open, what he accomplished in the desert today at TPC Scottsdale was in some ways even more impressive, even if many eyes in the sports world may have been elsewhere in the desert, as the Super Bowl had already kicked off in Las Vegas.
Playing the 18th hole three straight times – once to end his fourth round, and twice in a playoff against Charley Hoffman – the Canadian faced three straight birdie putts. The first was a tricky, downhill nine-footer, the second a 14-footer below the hole and the last an 11-footer from hole-high. If he had missed either of the first two, he would have gone home without a trophy. He made both, and when he drained the last for the birdie trifecta, he had captured the fourth PGA Tour win of his career.
Taylor had to be nearly perfect down the stretch to catch 47-year-old Hoffman, who polished off a third-round 64 in the morning and duplicated that number in the afternoon’s final round to post a 21-under total. For a moment, it looked like it might be enough, but as Hoffman hit irons off the first tee to stay warm and waited for the final groups to finish – due to more than seven hours of weather delays throughout the tournament, players weren’t regrouped between rounds – he had to survive the birdie effort from Taylor on 18. The downhill effort looked to be sliding past the hole, but it caught the edge at the last minute and fell, and the roar Hoffman heard from the first tee left no doubt that he was headed for a playoff.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 12, 2024
Heading back to 18, both players hit pure drives into the fairway, but Hoffman was better on the approach, leaving himself seven feet. Taylor put the pressure right back on Hoffman with his uphill birdie, but Hoffman, unfazed, answered in kind, and they returned to the tee. This time, Hoffman found the bunker – just inches in front of the lip – and Taylor the rough after his ball bounced out of another fairway bunker. Hoffman did well to find the green, but had to settle for par, setting the stage for Taylor’s tournament-winning putt.
“I didn’t have it early,” Taylor said after his win. “I made some ridiculous par saves, and that 18th tee shot has given me trouble in the past, so to hit three good ones and to make three birdies is amazing. I was seeing the lines great all week.”
In all, Taylor made five birdies in his last seven holes, and he needed them all after an opening nine that saw him tread water with a handful of critical up-and-downs from trouble. While he attempted to keep the leaders in view, two-time defending champion Scottie Scheffler surged up the leaderboard with a 31 on the front nine in his final round and seemed poised to leave all competitors in his wake for the third straight year. But a three-putt when he had an eagle chance on 13, followed by a second three-putt for bogey on 14, and another missed five-footer on 15 killed his momentum, and raised the same questions about his putting that dogged him through most of 2023.
“Feel like I did a lot of stuff well today,” Scheffler said afterwards, “I just didn’t make enough birdies, a few too many mistakes.”
(He wasn’t asked specifically about his putting woes, which isn’t much of a surprise considering how he bristled at the topic at various points last year.)
Scheffler finished in a tie for third with his friend Sam Burns, who posted a final-round 64, and Sahith Theegala scored a relatively disappointing 69 to settle for fifth.
NICK TAYLOR IS CLUTCH! pic.twitter.com/UdJpm2JwZ7
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 12, 2024
Before Taylor’s late heroics, Hoffman was almost the story of the weekend. At 47, he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in almost eight years, and his world ranking of 297 gave no indication that he’d be able to contend against a strong field in Phoenix.
“I want to kick all these young guys’ butts, believe me,” he said after the loss. “I want to beat them. I want to be in these signature events. I want to be one of the best in the world again. If I’m healthy I can compete, and I want to show these guys I’ve still got it.”
The various bonuses of winning on the PGA Tour, including a Masters berth and a two-year exemption, were not to be on Super Bowl Sunday for Hoffman, but he did gain entry into next week’s Genesis Invitational by virtue of his finish.
But after another wild week in Phoenix, where alcohol sales were cut off on Saturday and some ticketholders weren’t admitted to the grounds, it’s the understated Canadian Taylor who reaps the rewards of winning.
At 35, he’s hitting the best form of his career, and even though his name doesn’t quite resonate like the stars of the game, it has become increasingly clear that there’s nobody quite as scary with a putter in his hand and the tournament on the line.