05 February, 2018: It was a fourth playoff in five weeks on the PGA TOUR. Gary Woodland takes down Chez Reavie on the first hole of added action to clinch the Waste Management Phoenix Open title.
It had been five long years since he won, but that wasn’t what was on Gary Woodland’s mind when he made the final putt and pointed to the sky. He was thinking of the family member who was gone but not forgotten.
“Yeah, that was just kind of a tribute to last year,” Woodland said after shooting a final-round 64 and beating Chez Reavie with a par on the first playoff hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. “Obviously, we lost a little girl, and being there, seeing my wife give birth to her, that’s real.”
Woodland’s eyes flooded with tears. “Just wanted her to know I still love her,” he said.
On March 29 of last year, Woodland released a statement that he and his wife, Gabby, had lost one of their unborn twins. He had just withdrawn from the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, and in the statement he added that “doctors will be monitoring the health of my wife and the other baby for the remainder of the pregnancy.”
Just over 10 months later, Gabby and their son, Jaxson, surprised him on the 18th green as the family celebrated Gary’s first victory since the 2013 Barracuda Championship. Woodland calls Jaxson his “miracle” son, and he and Gabby held him close and continue to do so after the trials of 2017.
“Really took off about four months,” said Woodland, who moves from 38th to fifth in the FedExCup standings. “But I found a way to get to the TOUR Championship, kind of battled through the end of the year, and I couldn’t wait for 2018 to start.”
Said Brennan Little, Woodland’s caddie: “His demeanor has been better. Last year was a bit of a mess. I mean, not really knowing his schedule, missing a few events, going home. Now the wife and the baby have been out; his attitude has been really good, which I think you can see in some of the rounds in Hawaii and San Diego, he got off to some bad starts and brought them back.”
Woodland was trending in the right direction after a T7 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a T12 at the Farmers Insurance Open. Matt Kuchar, who hung around to congratulate Woodland after the victory, said he played nine holes with Woodland on Tuesday before the start of the WMPO and was wowed. “He was driving it just so well,” Kuchar said.
In addition to his wife and son, Woodland was cheered on by his parents, his sister and her husband, and others from back home in Topeka, Kansas. (He now lives in South Florida.) He got a text from his coach, Butch Harmon, on Thursday, urging him to put four good rounds together and not worry about the score. He did that, and recent putting lessons from friend Brad Faxon paid dividends, as well, as Woodland made 200 feet of putts on the weekend.
“I was in the zone,” he said. “I mean, I really had it going. My caddie asked me when I got done, did I know I made nine birdies. I didn’t even know I did that.”
Now it’s on to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the resumption of a career that for five years was sidetracked by frustration, injuries and loss.
“It’s really hard to put in words right now,” Woodland said. “Last year we battled through it, couldn’t get to the off-season quick enough, couldn’t start 2018 soon enough. For [Jaxson] to be here, it’s obviously a miracle, but I’m just so excited to share this with him and my family, and hopefully it’s the start of something special.”
REAVIE COMES UP SHORT: Chez Reavie made clutch birdies on 17 and 18 to tie, and the birdie at the last, measuring 21 feet, 4 inches, was Hollywood stuff when you consider he was a standard-bearer in this event as a boy. “That was the dream, man,” Reavie said. “… I grew up here in Mesa. I carried the sign board here growing up when I was in high school and junior high, and to have a chance to win the tournament this week was a lot of fun.” Reavie, a former Arizona State standout, was going for his second PGA TOUR win (2008 RBC Canadian Open) in his 237th start, but couldn’t get up and down to save par from just in front of the 18th green in the playoff. He had missed the cut in his previous three starts at the WMPO, and now has seven top-25 finishes in eight starts this season. He moves up to 13th in the latest FedExCup standings.
PHIL ENCOURAGED: Phil Mickelson still hasn’t won since the 2013 Open Championship, but he provided late thrills with birdies at 15, 16 and 17. Alas, he double-bogeyed 18 for 69 and T5, four out of the playoff. “That was a cool moment there,” Mickelson said of the curling, 30-foot putt he made for birdie at the fan-choked 16th hole. “It’s just a cool feeling. What a great hole.” (He birdied it three of the four days.) The T5 was the best result this season for the 47-year-old Hall of Famer and has him trending in the right direction going into the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, where he won the last of his four titles in 2012. “I just didn’t get it going early, and I don’t know what to say,” Mickelson said after making eight pars on the front nine at TPC Scottsdale, falling behind. “It was fun to be in contention. I had a great time coming down the stretch. I didn’t like, obviously, the last hole, but other than that it was a pretty solid week and that was the only over-par score [of the day].”
FOWLER FALTERS: Seeking his fifth win in his 200th PGA TOUR start, Rickie Fowler bogeyed three of the last four holes for a 2-over 73 and T11. He also broke a streak of 12 straight under-par rounds at WMPO. Although the bogeys on holes 15-17 were his most glaring mistakes, he cited his failure to make anything on the greens for his inability to turn a 54-hole lead/co-lead into a victory for the fifth time in six attempts. “Just couldn’t buy a putt,” said Fowler, who ranked -1.432 in strokes gained: putting, 60th in the field, in the final round. “That’s one of the best clubs in my bag. I feel like I hit a lot of good putts, so it was a little disappointing not to see really anything go in on the back nine. I think that was kind of the biggest letdown.” Fowler was trying to win for the first time in Phoenix after runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2016. “I love this place,” he said. “The course and I, most of the time we get along well.”
PATTON KIZZIRE – Remains the FedExCup leader after shooting a final-round 70 to finish T31.
JON RAHM – FedExCup and world No. 2 bogeyed the opening hole and never found his stride in a final-round 72 to finish T11.
ALEX NOREN – Hard-luck playoff loser at the Farmers Insurance Open last week fired a final-round 70 to finish at 10-under and T21.
JUSTIN THOMAS – Reigning FedExCup champ bounced back from a disappointing third round with a final-round 66, including a kick-in eagle on 17, to finish T17.
OLLIE SCHNIEDERJANS – Wineless member of the vaunted high school Class of 2011 thrilled with a final-round 65 but ran out of holes to finish T3, three out of the playoff.
PATRICK REED – Still trying to rebound from a winless 2017, Reed finished strong with a 67 to get to 11-under and T17.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE – Reigning Rookie of the Year bogeyed three of his first five holes and never recovered. Birdie at the last gave him a 1-over 72 for T17 finish.
Author – Cameron Morfit for the PGA TOUR website