On his 239th PGA Tour event, Kevin Stadler finally accomplished what all Tour players live for, he won one. This one was the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the TPC of Scottsdale, a course he lives one stoplight away from.
Starting in second by himself and two strokes behind overnight leader, Bubba Watson, he got to go head-to-head with Watson in the last group. Ryan Moore joined them, but after a 7-under, 64 to get there, he wasn’t a factor on Sunday, falling from 3rd to 9th with a 1-under 70. Okay any other day, but not on a Sunday.
And that’s kind of what happened to Bubba Watson. He has a real problem with slow play. If you looked up Slow Play in the dictionary, there would be a PGA Tour logo, at least that’s the gist of Watson’s comments both Saturday and Sunday:
I hit the ball pretty solid most part of the day coming out of the stretch, but again, it’s the same thing, just waiting on every tee box and waiting on every shot. I have to get used to that. And that’s what I’m taking from this. I’ve got to get better at that situation, because the PGA Tour has those situations a lot [chronically].
So I have to figure out how to get through those tough stretches there where we are waiting a lot.
One of Watson’s man-toys is an inflatable hovercraft golf cart, er, boat. There’s video of him taking a shortcut, zipping across a pond rather than following a traditional golf cart trundling along the cart path. Because it leaves no footprint, you can drive it right next to the green, make your putts and be off. It’s not a great leap of imagination to assume that he plays just as fast as a traditional golf cart will allow.
Watson could manage no better then even par on the day and that will rarely allow you to defend your overnight lead. He started with two encouraging birdies on 3 and 4, but then wallowed in with three bogeys and lone birdie on 17 after driving the green.
My interest for the day was the next to last group of Harris English (-12), Hideki Matsuyama (-12) and Brendan Steele (-11).
As I said yesterday, I chose that group because I had never seen English play. I had seen Matsuyama play on Thursday and was so impressed with his explosive power, I didn’t mind a second helping. I say “explosive” because he has this longer than conventional pause at the top of his backswing, gathers himself infinitesimally, and then sequentially blows back through the ball like it wasn’t even there. And I was interested in Steele because I’d written a post on his diet and nutrition regimen during the Humana Challenge.
English is every bit the stylish player his 6’3″ and 185 pound stature suggests he is. He hits a high, long ball and sort of glides from shot to shot. But his short game was his undoing in the early going. He just missed the 2nd green but needed a delicate little pitch instead of a putt. He ran it well by the hole and missed the par putt coming back. He just missed the 3rd green after a little adventure, but this time he left it on the greenside bank and needed a more forceful chip shot to get the ball out of the rough. He barely chunked it onto the green and missed the putt for par.
And in both instances, his mistake was the same. He took two practice swings to get the feel of the shot and then stepped to the ball and hit it rather than taking a moment to integrate the circumstances with the feel. It was almost as if he was in a nervous hurry to get it over with. With the feel fresh in his body, that’s your last moment to decide where you want the ball to land on the green, how much you want it to roll and how high or low you need to hit it with that feel so that it does. Then you take the shot. In both instances, he left the middle part out. My sense of it was that it seemed a little better later, so perhaps it was just early nerves.
Matsuyama played great all day long getting it to 3-under by the 13th and briefly tied for the lead with Watson and Stadler at 15-under before making bogey on 16. He hit a bold shot dead at the pin, but just a little long and it one-hopped just over the back. His chip shot was near impossible — he had to carry it over a small mound onto a slick downhill to the hole — he ran it by and missed the 12-footer coming back. He drove the 17th green, but was left with a 103-foot putt to Sunday’s traditional back left pin on the peninsula. He couldn’t do any better than 8½ feet by — which was not bad — but couldn’t make the comeback.
Brendan Steele managed a 3-under 69, but that wasn’t enough. He could move the ball out there too with a swing that gets to parallel, but not very high above his shoulders. He hit a lot of good shots, obviously, but I found his pensiveness over putts to be annoying as the day went on. He looked at each putt from both sides of the hole, squatting down to study the line on each side and taking more than the couple of beats most Tour players do. On the other hand, he must have it down to a science: he had a very high Strokes Gained — Putting of 3.487 for the day, 1.640 for the week and finishing 4th in that stat.
All in all, it was a great week. Although I didn’t get any exclusive interviews this time, I got a fair amount of questions asked in the interview room, some of them to Bubba Watson who had some great responses. As promised, I’ll tell you about that on Tuesday.