Golf

Fowler stumbles but wins Honda Classic by four

Rickie Fowler celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Honda Classic by four shots.
Rickie Fowler celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Honda Classic by four shots. AP

Throughout his career, there has never been a doubt that Rickie Fowler was one of golf’s stellar talents.

But there has always been one disclaimer to his abilities — that Fowler was not a finisher. Too often, he would have a late lead and somehow let it slip away.

On Sunday, Fowler went into the final round of the Honda Classic on the Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa with a four-stroke lead and ended up winning by four shots over Gary Woodland and Morgan Hoffmann.

The final totals: Fowler (66-66-65-71 — 268) finished at 12-under-par, with Woodland (71-66-66-69 — 272) and Hoffmann (68-67-69-68 — 272) sharing second at 8-under.

Will his victory close the book on whether Fowler is a “finisher” or will a few more chapters need to be written? Even Fowler seemed a bit uncertain after his Honda Classic triumph.

“It wasn’t the prettiest of ways to do it,” Fowler admitted, “but this isn’t an easy golf course, and this wasn’t an easy day. I just had to kind of keep moving forward.

“I started with a four-shot lead … still won by four. I didn’t play great. But we got the job done. A win’s a win.”

In his mind, with the lead dwindling, Fowler said: “I knew what I needed to do. Kind of being put up against the wall, you’ve got to fight and figure it out. You either play golf now or you’re not taking the trophy home.”

On Saturday night, Fowler said he got several texts wishing him luck, including encouragement from Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas also wished him well at the course on Sunday morning.

“It’s great to have the support of guys that I have either looked up to, enjoy watching, love seeing them play well … and we all want to beat each other when everyone is at their best,” Fowler said.

Did he keep track where his lead stood as he went through the day?

“I tried not to pay too much attention,” but he said knew when his lead had shrunk to two strokes.

Fowler’s up-and-down day that gave him his fourth PGA Tour victory went like this:

He started with that four-stroke lead, the largest third-day lead of his PGA Tour career, but a drive into the water on No. 6 resulted in double-bogey 6. The lead was down to two. Then, while Fowler was on No. 11, Woodland — playing two groups ahead of Fowler — was making birdie on No. 13 to cut the margin to one.

It was time for Fowler to reach deep, and he did.

Fowler birdied 12, 13 and 16, and Woodland was falling back with bogeys on 17 and 18.

Fowler’s birdie on 12 came with a  38 1/2-foot putt that just curved in at the end, and that was followed by a 23-foot putt for birdie on No. 13. The birdie on 16 came when a masterful approach shot plopped down six feet from the hole, and Fowler putted it dead center into the hole.

Nevertheless, Fowler had a miscue left in his bag, putting his tee shot on the 17th, a par-3 that is part of the infamous Bear Trap, into the water by coming up short right of the green. He took a penalty stroke and hit from the drop area, making bogey when he left his second tee shot six feet from the pin and made the putt.

That left the par-5 18th, and Fowler played cautiously and took bogey when his approach landed in a bunker right of the green.

With the tournament won and the crystal trophy in his hands, Fowler will be in the World Golf Rankings top 10 on Monday with a tidy check of $1,152,000 to deposit.

So, did this victory — with sometimes brilliant play for most of the tournament and an up-and-down final round — transform him into a “finisher?”

That’s up to Fowler to decide and for fans to debate.

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