By Tom LaMarre
(Nov 15, 2010) — All that was missing from Rickie Fowler’s remarkable rookie season on the PGA Tour was a victory.
And he couldn’t even take home the consolation prize.
Fowler, the 21-year-old from Murrieta, closed with his second six-under-par 66 of the week, but wound up in a tie for third, four strokes behind winner Robert Garrigus, in the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, final event of the PGA Tour season on the Magnolia Course at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“It’s been awesome, obviously, to go out and get my PGA Tour card right after turning pro was big, and then to come out and secure my card for next year early on in the season was awesome,” said Fowler, who left Oklahoma State after his sophomore year.
“It made me, I guess, free up a bit for the rest of the season, gave me some more opportunities to go through FedExCup, and then to get picked for the Ryder Cup team. So the only thing that was really left out is a win.”
When the tournament was over, Fowler wound up in a tie with Troy Merritt and Aaron Baddeley of Australia for the lead in the Kodak Challenge, a season-long competition of the best score on 18 holes of 30 selected throughout the season.
Merritt took a one-stroke lead heading into the tournament with an eagle at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but could not birdie the designated hole of the week, the par-four, 485-yard 17th on the Magnolia Course.
Fowler and Baddeley each made a birdie there during the tournament to pull even with Merritt at 17-under par.
That forced a playoff on No. 17, where all three players hit the fairway and green, with Merritt nearly holing his approach shot from 133 yards and leaving his ball 18 inches from the cup.
After Fowler barely missed from about 40 feet and Baddeley could not get his birdie putt from 15 feet to fall, Merritt tapped in to earn the winner-take-all $1-million prize.
“The first thing I’m going to do is buy my wife (Courtney) a new car,” said Merritt, of Phoenix and Boise State, whose tie for 30th at Disney earned him the last full-exempt PGA Tour card for next season at 125th on the money list. “Hers is a bit outdated, we need a safer model for her.
“And then obviously my caddie is going to get a little bit of the share, and after that I think we’re going to put a majority away in the bank, just kind of save up. … I wouldn’t say it was a stress-free day. It certainly was a nice ending.”
Said Baddeley: “He nearly holes it for a two, which is pretty good, especially when you consider he hadn’t birdied it all week.”
Garrigus, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., earned his first PGA Tour victory by shooting 68-65-70-64–267 to earn $846,000, with Roland Thatcher second at 65-63-70-72–270 to earn his card for next season by finishing 122nd on the money list.
It was sweet redemption for Garrigus, who carded a triple bogey on the final hole of regulation the St. Jude Classic earlier this year in Memphis, Tenn., to fall into a tie for the lead with Lee Westwood, who beat Garrigus in a playoff.
“It feels great to be able to close this one off and figuratively shut everybody up about Memphis,” Garrigus said.
Fowler, who posted his seventh top-10 finish of the season, wound up at 66-70-69-66– 271 to tie for third with Spencer Levin of Elk Grove and the University of New Mexico, who finished at 68-68-67-68–271, and Johnson Wagner, who came in at 70-65-69-67– 271.
“Congrats to R. Garrigus … that was some solid golf and a great tourney!!” Fowler posted on his Twitter page. “Had a lot of fun today … solid round to finish and it was a fun playoff for the Kodak Challenge … a great shot won it for Troy Merritt!! Well deserved for a great guy … 125 on the money list with a nice lil check!! Congrats!!”
Rory Sabbatini of the University of Arizona and South Africa tied for 12th at 67-71-66-71–275, Paul Stankowski of Oxnard and Texas-El Paso tied for 17th at 72-67- 71-66–276, Tom Lehman of Scottsdale, Ariz., and the University of Minnesota tied for 19th at 67-70-69-71–277, John Merrick of Long Beach and UCLA tied for 23rd at 71-66-70-71 –278 and Jeff Quinney of Arizona State and Eugene, Ore., tied for 27th at 67-68-71-73–279.
Pat Perez of San Diego and Arizona State shot 69-69-69-73–280 and tied for 30th with
Tom Pernice Jr. of Murrieta and UCLA, who wound up at 68-70-68-74–280, Ted Purdy of Phoenix and the University of Arizona, who finished at 68-71-72-69–280, and Merritt, who came in at 69-71-73-67–280.
Roger Tambellini of Templeton and USC totaled 69-72-72-72–285 and tied for 61st with Charlie Wi of Westlake Village and Cal, who carded a score of 72-68-70-75–285.
Matt Bettencourt of Alameda and Modesto City College finished at 71-68-71-76–286 and tied for 65th with Scott Piercy of Las Vegas and San Diego State, who wound up at 70-70-73-73–286, and Baddeley, a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., who shot 70-71-74-71– 286.
Fowler, who made only one bogey while playing his last 48 holes in 13-under, reflected on a few shots that might have gotten away.
“You know, we did leave some out there, but like I said, it was a pretty solid round of golf for a Sunday,” said Fowler, who burst upon the golf scene when he shot 10-under-par 62 to win the CIF Southern California Golf Association Regional as a freshman at Murietta Valley High.
“Best front nine we’ve turned in the last three days, and was looking to make a few more birdies on the back, but still a solid day of golf.”
To cap a great year, most likely the first of many.
The Rookie, the Reward and the Redemption
By Tom LaMarre