TIME golf

Rickie Fowler Delivers Major Performance to Win Players Championship

Rickie Fowler holds during the The Players Championship trophy, May 10, 2015, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
John Raoux—AP Rickie Fowler lifts the Players Championship trophy in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on May 10, 2015

"I've been waiting a long time for this," Fowler said. "Back in the winner's circle"

(PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.) — The latest survey was unanimous, not anonymous. Rickie Fowler can deliver the goods.

Facing a five-shot deficit with six holes to play, Fowler produced the greatest finish in the 34-year history of the TPC Sawgrass. In a three-man playoff on three of the most visually intimidating holes in golf, he never backed down.

And when he faced that nervous shot over the water to an island for the third time Sunday, he was as good as ever.

No, there was nothing overrated about this kid.

Criticized in an anonymous survey by some of his peers for not being able to win, Fowler answered with a captivating victory at The Players Championship. At a tournament that dresses up like a major, Fowler looked the part in beating the strongest field in golf with an array of shots that won’t be forgotten.

As for that survey?

“I laughed at the poll,” he said. “But yeah, if there was any question, I think this right here answers anything you need to know.”

It was hard work.

He took six shots on the par-3 17th hole, which is not unusual for a Sunday except that Fowler played it three times. And even with the record-setting finish at the Stadium Course — birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie on the last four holes for a 5-under 67 — Fowler still had to face Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, who produced big shots of their own.

For the first time, The Players went to a three-hole aggregate playoff starting on the par-5 16th, where earlier Fowler hit a 3-wood into the breeze to 30 inches for an eagle that made this moment possible.

They all made pars on the 16th.

Kisner rolled in a breaking 10-foot birdie putt on the island-green 17th to keep pace with Fowler, who hit his tee shot to 6 feet and converted the birdie. Garcia, who in regulation made a 45-foot birdie to give him new life, failed to repeat the putt from about the same range in the playoff. All three players made par on the final hole, which eliminated Garcia.

Fowler and Kisner, who closed with a 69 and lost for the second time in a month in a playoff, headed back to the 17th hole for the third time. The great shots kept coming. Kisner barely cleared the mound and the ball settled 12 feet away. Fowler answered by taking on the right side of the green and sticking it just inside 5 feet.

Kisner finally missed.

It was the second time in a month that Kisner, winless in 102 starts, lost in a playoff despite making clutch putts.

“Golf is a hard and cruel game,” Kisner said. “But hats off. I mean, shoot, these guys are good, I’m telling you. Don’t give up on anybody.”

Fowler never seemed to miss over the final two hours, and he calmly clutched his fist to celebrate his first PGA Tour victory in three years.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Fowler said. “Back in the winner’s circle.”

Garcia, who had a two-shot lead heading to the back nine, closed with a 68. He had a 20-foot birdie putt to win in regulation that missed badly to the right. And he faced a crowd that was increasingly hostile to the Spaniard, perhaps remembering the tiff he had with Tiger Woods two years ago.

His caddie was asking for security when he made the turn. In the three-hole playoff, a small group of fans yelled, “USA!” as he took the putter back.

It marred what was other sheer brilliance, a most unforgettable final hour in a tournament that has a history of them.

For Fowler, the timing couldn’t have been better.

One of the questions in SI Golf’s annual player survey — players do not give their names — was to pick the most overrated player on the PGA Tour. Fowler and Ian Poulter shared first place at 24 percent. Fowler has never faced this level of criticism. He is a favorite among fans and most players for his considerate behavior.

He tried to play it down, though he said on more than one occasion this week that it would motivate him.

Fowler was five shots behind Garcia when he “hit the button.” It was more like hitting warp speed.

A 9-iron to 12 feet for birdie on the par-3 13th. A 15-foot birdie on the 15th. The bold shot over the edge of the water to tap-in range for eagle. The wedge over the corner of the island to 6 feet for birdie. And then he blasted a tee shot 331 yards and made a 15-foot birdie on the 18th hole to be the first player to reach 12-under 276.

The Stadium Course has rarely lacked for greater theater over the last three decades.

This topped them all.

Over the final hour, six players had hopes of winning the richest prize in golf. Four of them were tied for the lead.

Ben Martin raced into the picture with three straight birdies, but he pushed his tee shot into the woods on the 18th, pitched out and missed his par putt for a 70 that knocked him out of the playoff. Bill Haas twice had a chance to tie for the lead, and he failed to make birdie on the 18th to join the playoff.

The finish by Garcia and Kisner would have been talked about for years. On this day, thanks to Fowler, it was nearly an afterthought.

So were the two biggest names in golf. The action was that good.

Tiger Woods had a 72 and tied for 69th, his worst position ever in The Players Championship. Rory McIlroy, who started the final round four shots behind, didn’t get going until it was too late. He closed with a 70 and tied for eighth, four shots behind.

TIME golf

When He Was 14, Jordan Spieth Said He Wanted to Win the Masters

In a 2008 profile of 14-year-old Jordan Spieth, the Texas native talks about winning the Masters. At the time he was a student at Jesuit High School in Dallas.

“My ultimate goal when I came here, (my instructor) asked me and I said, “’I want to win the Masters.’” Spieth said.

This year, in just his second Masters appearance, Spieth is in position to do just that. He’s the 36-hole leader after finishing with a Masters record 14 under after the first two days. You can watch the video below.

This article originally appeared on Golf.com

TIME golf

See Where Masters Champion Jordan Spieth Fits Into Golf History

The average age of Masters winners is a steady 32

21-year-old Jordan Spieth drove himself into golf history Sunday, winning the Masters with a final score of 18 under par. Spieth tied Tiger Woods for the best tournament total and became the second 21-year-old to win the event, following Woods’ 1997 performance.

Spieth’s stellar performance at such a young age raises the question of whether golfers are tending toward the younger side. According to the Golf Channel, the answer is no: The median and mean age of major champions has remained stable for decades at 32 years of age. Spieth’s win doesn’t change that magic number, but it does fall nicely into a trend of Masters winners’ ages rising and falling, as shown in the chart above.

Some observers attribute the periodic trends to repeat-champions in different generations in golf history. Jack Nicklaus, for example, has the most Masters victories, with five between 1963 and 1975 — and a sixth in 1986. Four-time champions include Arnold Palmer (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964) and Tiger Woods (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005).

Though age might not be changing among Masters winners, the champions do seem to be getting better. Masters winners’ final scores have trended upwards since the first tournaments in the 1930s, with over half of the 10-under-par totals being scored by champions in the last 20 years:

 

TIME golf

Women on Twitter Are Throwing Themselves at Masters Winner Jordan Spieth

Wonder what his girlfriend Annie Verret has to say about that

Jordan Spieth smashed his way to victory to become the second-youngest player to win the Masters at Augusta on Sunday, and his stellar performance has caught the eye of more than a few fans on social media.

Since his big win, the 21-year-old has received declarations of love from admirers on Twitter vying to be his girlfriend.

But to the dismay of many eager women, Spieth does in fact have a girlfriend — his high school sweetheart and business student Annie Verret, who was there to celebrate her golfing beau’s first major title.

Read next: Watch Jack Nicklaus Sink a Hole-in-One During the Masters Par-3 Contest

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME golf

Watch Jack Nicklaus Sink a Hole-in-One During the Masters Par-3 Contest

Jack Nicklaus celebrates his hole-in-one during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. on April 8, 2015.
David Cannon—Getty Images Jack Nicklaus celebrates his hole-in-one during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. on April 8, 2015.

And see how the 75-year-old veteran golfer celebrated

The greatest players of all-time have made their mark at the Masters.

The greatest champion of all-time, Jack Nicklaus, did it six times. As if that wasn’t enough, the Golden Bear added to his legacy at Augusta on Wednesday afternoon.

Playing the fourth hole in the Par-3 Challenge with Gary Player and Ben Crenshaw, Nicklaus tossed his approach 15 feet beyond the hole, spinning it back and into the cup for an ace.

Nicklaus celebrated with high fives all around, from his playing partners to the caddies, then on to the fans near the tee box.

This article originally appeared on Golf.com.

TIME golf

See Sports Illustrated’s 100 Best Masters Photos

Since the 1950s, Sports Illustrated has captured every big moment at the Masters. Take a look back at the 100 best photos, including Jack's magical finish in 1986, Arnie's last win in 1964, and Tiger's 2001 masterpiece.

TIME golf

Phil Mickelson Drops the Best Golfing Humble Brag Ever

The Masters - Preview Day 2
David Cannon — Getty Images Phil Mickelson speaks to the media following a practice round ahead of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.

Lefty’s got 99 problems but a green jacket ain’t one

Phil Mickelson likes to have one of his prized green blazers on him during a round of golf, you know, in case it gets cold.

According to the three-time Masters Tournament winner, he relishes in showing up to corporate events with a green jacket in tow. (The jackets are awarded to the winners of the annual Masters Tournament).

“If it was chilly in the morning, I would pull it out,” Mickelson told reporters ahead of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t carry three [green jackets] around with me, but I would say, ‘I’ve got two more if you’re cold.’”

However, Mickelson admits he’s got to be careful whom he brags in front of.

“Some people can take it, some people can’t,” he joked.

Mickelson is scheduled to tee off on Thursday morning alongside Rory McIlroy for the first round of the 2015 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

TIME golf

Tiger Woods Will Play the 2015 Masters

Tiger Woods talks to the media in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Jan. 27, 2015.
Rick Scuteri—AP Tiger Woods talks to the media in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Jan. 27, 2015.

Despite recently recently falling out of golf's top 100 for the first time

Tiger Woods announced today that he will play the 2015 Masters.

After weeks of speculation, Woods said he will tee it up at Augusta National next week, his first tournament since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open in early February. Woods subsequently skipped the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational, saying that he would only return when his game was tournament ready.

“I’m playing in the Masters,” Woods said in 45-word statement. “It’s obviously very important to me, and I want to be there. I’ve worked a lot on my game and I’m looking forward to competing. I’m excited to get to Augusta and I appreciate everyone’s support.”

Tiger Watch was in full effect leading up to his decision. His plane was spotted at the local Augusta airport on Tuesday in advance of his practice round at Augusta National. Reports of his play trickled out days later, one stating that Woods shot a 74 with several birdies and some poor chipping. Woods was back at Augusta on Friday morning for more practice.

Woods, who sat out the 2014 Masters due to back surgery, has dominated the Masters like no other player since Jack Nicklaus. In 19 career events, Woods has four victories, two runner-ups and seven top-5 finishes, including a period from 2001-05 when Woods won three out of five Masters. In his third appearance at Augusta in 1997, Woods dominated the field, posting an 18-under final mark en route to a 12-stroke victory and his first career major title.

Nicklaus is the only player with more green jackets (six) hanging in his closet. Woods and Arnold Palmer own four each, and only eight players all-time have more than two Masters victories.

Two weeks ago, Notah Begay said Woods was getting better each day. At the beginning of March, he estimated there was a 1-in-10 chance of seeing Tiger at Augusta, but Woods spent the month slowly attempting to repair his game.

He said he wouldn’t come back until he was ready, sparking questions about his health and his motivation. We finally have an answer.

This article originally appeared on Golf.com.

TIME golf

Tiger Woods Tumbles Out of Golf’s Top 100 Rankings

Tiger Woods during the Farmers Insurance Open Pro Am in San Diego on Feb. 4, 2015.
Todd Warshaw—Getty Images Tiger Woods during the Farmers Insurance Open Pro Am in San Diego on Feb. 4, 2015.

The golfer's last run as No. 1 was from March 2013 to May 2014

For the first time since 1996, Tiger Woods is not one of the top 100 players in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Woods has not been on the outside looking in since Sept. 29, 1996, when he was ranked No. 225 and had only been a professional for one month. The next week, Woods won his first PGA Tour event at the Las Vegas Invitational and jumped to No. 75 in the world, the lowest he would be ranked for the next 19 years.

The major winners in 1996 were Nick Faldo, Steve Jones, Tom Lehman and Mark Brooks. The top 5 ranked players were Greg Norman, Lehman, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Fred Couples.

In his career, Woods has accumulated a record 683 total weeks as the world’s No. 1 ranked player, including 11 different runs at the top. The 14-time major winner set the record for most consecutive weeks atop the rankings in a span from August 1999 to September 2004 and topped his own record with 281 straight weeks at No. 1 from June 2005 to October 2010. Woods’ last run as No. 1 was from March 2013 to May 2014.

Woods has not announced if he is playing in next week’s Masters. It would be his second consecutive missed Masters, a tournament he has won four times. Notah Begay, a close friend, has said the odds for Woods showing up to Augusta are 50-50. He is staying busy, as Golf.com reported last week that Woods had been tapped to redesign a golf course in Beijing, China, a project that will pay him $16.5 million.

This article originally appeared on Golf.com.

TIME Bizarre

Can This Giant Alligator Invading a Florida Golf Course Be Real?

Myakka Pines Golf Club says creature is genuine but some suspect the work of Photoshop

Myakka Pines Golf Club got a very scary visitor on the seventh hole green last week when an enormous alligator decided to spend some time there.

“Enormous” actually does not do this animal justice. Perhaps Jurassic is the proper adjective for a reptile this imposing.

The gator is so big that many are claiming the picture must be Photoshopped, but the country club says that the course’s newest, and most imposing, hazard is all too real.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com