Albany: Rickie Fowler made an electric start to round four as he smashed seven straight birdies and 11 overall to win the Hero World Challenge, a tournament hosted by former world number one Tiger Woods, who finished tied-9th in his first tournament in nine months.
Fowler, who was standing at the fifth spot overnight, never took his feet off the accelerator as he made the turn in 8-under 28 and closed the round with a 11-under 61 to move to 18-under and displace Charley Hoffman from the top to clinch victory.
He also took home a million dollar cheque from the purse of US $ 3.5 million.
So, even as everyone was looking out for and following the man in the red, it was the one in orange who kept zooming up the leaderboard.
Third-round leader Hoffman (72) once again failed to convert his 54-hole lead into a win and finished four behind Fowler. Hoffman entered the day with a five-shot edge, but struggled throughout the round with a 72.
Woods also had a great day. He shot a 31 on the front nine for the second time in three days and this time it included an eagle-2 on par-4 seventh. Then despite finishing bogey-bogey, he was happy with the return that had three rounds in 60s and was fully pain free each day.
Fowler finished at 18-under, while Hoffman was 14-under with Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Jordan Spieth (69) Tied-3td at 12-under and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama (68) was Tied-5th with Patrick Reed (68) and Justin Rose (70). Francesco Molinari (70) was ninth and Tiger Woods, (68) completed the Top-10 alongside Matt Kuchar (71).
Granted perfect conditions a day after tough and gusty winds, Fowler was sprinting out of the gate. Seven straight birdies had Albany in roars and the delight and excitement was palpable. By the end he had cruised along to a new tournament record and admitted to having thoughts of a 59 as he was 8-under through nine and 9-under through 11. But he clearly decided not to push and put winning ahead of a sub-60 landmark.
The Hero world Challenge, which is specially sanctioned event on PGA Tour and does not count towards FedExCup or the Money List, but it is Fowler’s second title of 2017.
Fowler said, “Obviously I knew I needed to get off to a hot start today to give myself a chance, and Charley’s been playing some solid golf and I wasn’t expecting him to come back to me. I knew I was going to have to go out and get him. Like I said, get off to a decent start and at least show my face a little bit. I wasn’t expecting seven out of the gate, but I’ll take it.”
He added, “It (the win) was pretty special. Obviously it’s not a full-field event, but the 18 guys that are here I feel like we’ve all earned our way here. In a way this tournament’s always I feel like been looked at as a celebration of, like I said, earning your way here. No one gets here by mistake. Even Tiger at 1,299, or 1,199, just started at 1,200. He’s inside 1,000 now. He’s trending, he’s going the right way. Especially to have Tiger here this week, him back playing and being able to play the last couple months with him at home and see his potential, it was great.”
As for Woods, he started with a 10-foot putt for birdie at the par-5 third and followed with a 12-footer at the par-3 fifth to move 20-under for the day.
The atmosphere turned electric when Woods smashed his driver on the 336-yard par-4 seventh and drove the green with the ball finishing some 25 feet away. He read it well and the ball curled it way into the cup for an eagle and he was up to 4-under for the round. A birdie after coming out of the bunker on ninth, which he eagled on second day, meant a 5-under 31.
He had found all but one fairway on the front nine, but on 10th his drive ended in a divot and he ended with a disappointing double as his bogey putt lipped out from 12 feet. He rebounded with a two-putt birdie on par-5 11th and then made a nice par save on 12th.
Once again he nearly drove the green on par-4 14th and the birdie there saw him back at 5-under. The birdie on the par-5 15th saw him to rise to 6-under for the day and 10-under for the tournament. It seemed a double digit under par on a comeback after 10 months was surely a matter to rejoice. But he bogeyed par-3 17th with a 10-footer par miss.
It became back-to-back bogeys, when Woods ran a 25-footer some 3 feet past at the par-4 18th and even that lipped out for a bogey. Disappointing finish, but still a strong considering circumstances – three scores in the 60s was clearly a great return and on the second he even held outright lead at one stage around the turn.
On the takeaways from the week, Woods said, “I was still a little scratchy with my irons, drove it pretty good all week, made some good putts. Overall I’m very pleased. I showed some good signs. I’m ready for a bright future.”
Woods confirmed that he went through the four rounds pain-free, but on the topic of his playing schedule for 2018, he said, “We’re going to sit down here and figure out what’s the best way to build my schedule for the major championships, and what my training cycles are going to be. I want to play enough, but not too much. I’ll sit down with the whole team and we’ll figure it out.”
Hoffman concluded, “You know, I played good, just didn’t play as good as I needed to today. Mostly I didn’t think someone’s going to go out and shoot 11 under par. With that I got sort of steamrolled. It happened when Hideki did it at World Golf Championship and when Jhonattan Vegas did it. So as of late guys have come out of the pack and sort of passed me, it’s not from (me) not playing good golf.”