Heartbreak for Hoffman as Taylor triumphs in Phoenix

Mark McGowan
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Nick Taylor (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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12 months ago, Nick Taylor played bridesmaid to Scottie Scheffler’s bride, pushing the then reigning Masters champion and soon to be world number one (again) Texan all the way, but falling agonisingly short.

Fast-forward a year and it looked as though history was going to repeat itself as Scheffler reeled off four birdies in his opening five holes and leapfrog Taylor and Sahith Theegala who’d ended their third rounds with a one shot lead over Charley Hoffman, with Scheffler among those one further adrift at -13.

Hard pressed to get the tournament wrapped up after rain played havoc on day one and a 45-minute front delay complicated matters further still on Sunday morning, both Taylor and Theegala had just eight minutes between finishing up in the scorers hut after their dozen remining holes in round three and teeing off for the final round.

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With both Taylor and Theegala starting slowly, Scheffler’s primary challenger emerged in the unlikely shape of 47-year-old Hoffman, winless on the PGA Tour since 2016. Despite the blonde hair and California upbringing, Hoffman is about as far from a surfer as you’re likely to find on the PGA Tour, but making the turn at -3, he’d ridden the early waves well and was almost singlehandedly keeping Scheffler honest.

Still, he couldn’t hang with the world number one, could he? He could. After bogeying the 12th, he replied with eagle at 13 and added birdies at 14 and 15 to throw down the gauntlet once more and, shockingly, Scheffler wilted as his putting woes came back to haunt him on the closing stretch.

Taylor, who’d been an afterthought until he reeled off three birdies in four holes at the turn, seemed destined for back-to-back runners-up, but he hung around long enough to have a sniff of catching Hoffman coming down to the wire.

He’d birdied three of his opening four holes in round one on Thursday before darkness put an early stop on things, but came back out on day two and completed an 11-under 60. But finishing as he started, he birdied three of the closing four, including a clutch birdie putt from almost 10 feet on the 72nd hole to force a playoff.

Playing incredible golf, both players birdied the first playoff hole, retuning to the 18th tee where Taylor, as he had in regulation, got a fortunate bounce through the fairway bunker and found a decent lie in the rough. Hoffman, from the church pew bunker on the left, hit a superb approach, leaving himself 25 feet across the slope but his birdie putt lacked pace and fell short and low.

Taylor had now birdied four of his last five, and the 18th twice in a row, and he faced a 12-footer for the win, and just as he’d done on his previous attempts, found the bottom of the cup, this time sealing a third PGA Tour victory.

“Yeah, I tried to draw on last year,” Taylor said in the immediate aftermath. “I didn’t have it early on. I made some ridiculous par saves. That 18th tee shot has given me trouble in the past. To hit three pretty good ones and birdie it three times is amazing.

“I drew on that last putt honestly from last year. I had that putt when I finished second. Saw the line, and I obviously was seeing the lines great all week, so it’s amazing that went in, too.”

It ended up being a disappointing weekend for Shane Lowry and Seamus Power. Lowry had been the early tournament leader in the first round, and as high as eighth midway through his third round on Saturday evening, but despite a birdie-birdie finish to round three on Sunday morning, he shot a costly five-over in round four, plummeting to a tie for 60th.

Power, on the other hand, had hovered around the cutline for most of the opening two rounds, eventually birdieing his 36th hole to make it on the number, but a third-round 74 combined with a final-round 69 saw him finish tied for 66th at -1.

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