The 447th-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) posted the 72-hole clubhouse mark at 17-under 270 and was looking to end a near 11-year winless drought on TOUR. Thirty minutes later, he watched with his wife and 2-year-old son as the Hall of Famer missed a five-footer on the signature par-5 18th that would have forced sudden death.
Playing this season on Past Champion status, the 39-year-old cracked the field on Monday as first alternate. A pre-tourney 250/1 (outright) long shot improbably claimed victory after beginning championship Sunday six adrift of the four-time AT&T champ Mickelson. He split nine (of 14) fairways and hit 14 greens in regulation, posting a stellar 1.429 putts per GIR (26 total putts).
The Augusta, Georgia, resident circled nine (against two bogeys), including four straight on Nos. 13-16, the latter from 28’11”, to come home in bogey-free 31. Taylor was a WD last week on the Web.com Tour in Colombia with a stomach virus, and instead of flying home to Georgia, he flew to California because it was cheaper. With not even a staff bag in tow, which he didn’t bring to avoid excess baggage fees, he pockets a cool $1,260,000.
With the win, Taylor is now exempt on TOUR thru 2017-18 and returns to the Masters – his Super Bowl – for a fourth time and first since missing the cut in 2008. He leapfrogs 347 places to OWGR No. 100 and vaults from 183rd in the FedExCup standings to No. 15. Along with his third TOUR title in his 286th pro start, he also won the team portion of the tournament at 30-under. His other two wins were both in opposite-field events winning the 2004 and 2005 Reno-Tahoe Open (now the Barracuda Championship).
"It's been a long time. I didn't think it was going to happen. I've worked so hard. I just kept getting knocked down and knocked down. I can't believe it actually happened again,” Taylor said afterward.
What Else Did We Learn?
Of the 17 players that were top 50 OWGR entering the week, only five finished inside the top 10 with just one inside the top 5, Mickelson.
Phil Mickelson: We noted in last week’s WMPO recap that Mickelson was the all-time money winner at the AT&T. Gamers were rewarded with his 32nd career runner-up finish in his 512th pro start and $756,000. The 45-year-old led by two thru 54 holes and was vying for a record-tying fifth AT&T title but settled for an even-par 72 to wrap his 20th appearance at 16-under 271 (68-65-66-72). In a move that will puzzle many, the Hall of Famer brought in his swing coach directly following a bogey-free 65 in R3 and the result was a nervy four-birdie four-bogey finale. He saved par twice from between seven and nine feet on his first half but elsewhere dropped four shots on failed scrambles. Mickelson circled just three birdies until a clutch 12’11” roll at 17 gave him life. With Taylor already in the house, he excruciatingly missed a prime birdie chance from 5'1" at the last that would’ve forced a playoff. Mickelson is the first player on TOUR this season to record 100 putts or fewer in a tournament, but in the end, needed that number to be 99. He drops to one for his last six in converting 54-hole leads.
Freddie Jacobson: The 41-year-old went skiing after a T4 at the Farmers and returned to post his third top-five finish on eight starts in 2015-16. He played out of the penultimate pairing on Sunday with 36-hole co-leader Sung Kang, three adrift of Mickelson, but wrapped in 1-under 71 for a four-day total of 14-under 273, three back of would-be-champ Taylor. Ultimately, the Swede dipped one spot on the round but mustered a two-way T4, a personal best in his sixth AT&T. He split 11 (of 14) fairways in the finale but hit just 10 greens in regulation en route to a dismal -1.843 strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Patrick Reed: In his fourth appearance, the 25-year-old back-doored a T6 with an eight-birdie one-bogey 65, including a blemish-free inward 31. His 65 tied fellow Augusta University product Taylor for low lap of the day and bested a T7 here in his 2013 tourney debut. Reed was T3 in total birdies with 21 but T17 in bogeys (nine). He erased one eagle with one double.
Justin Rose: The 35-year-old was solo sixth thru 36 holes (66-68) and didn't improve that position. Weekend rounds of 72-69 on the host course left him splitting sixth place with Reed. He needed par on the 18th for solo fifth, but took a disappointing bogey-6. To his credit though, Rose was the only marquee player to be in true contention – other than Mickelson – and of the 18 first-timers in the field, was second best only to Iwata.
Brooks Koepka: Like Rose, neither got a whole lot of pre-tourney attention mainly due to tournament debuts. In truth, Rose got a bit more love due to his amateur partner Justin Timberlake’s celebrity (and their social media presence), but Koepka held his own, posting four solid rounds for 10-under 277 (68-70-69-70). It was a good answer to his disappointing T41 in last week's title defense at the WMPO.
Bill Haas: In only his second AT&T and first since a missed cut way back in 2006, the 33-year-old posted a T8 on 10-under 277 (69-68-69-71).
Jonas Blixt: The Swede posted a personal best in his third AT&T after a 3-under 69 in the finale to end on 15-under 272, up two spots on the day and good for solo third, two swings adrift. After opening in 67-69-67, he began four back of Mickelson, and at one point, took the outright lead at 15-under with eagle on the par-5 fifth. The 31-year-old added to the total with an 18'9" birdie-2 at seven, but then drifted away, playing his final 11 holes in 1-over (one birdie, two bogeys). Blixt finished the week T1 in bogeys with just three squares and posted blemish-free 67s in round one and three. After recording just one top 10 last season in 26 events, he’s surpassed that already with two on 10 starts thus far in 2015-16.
Hiroshi Iwata: The PGA TOUR rookie wrapped his tournament debut with an even-par 72 for a four-day tally of 14-under 273, good for top honors among 18 first-timers. He had a chance for a par save on the 72nd hole (from 4'9"), which would have secured him a T3 and tied a career best, but he missed, settling instead for a two-way T4, down two places on the day. The 34-year-old, playing in the final group with Mickelson, needed eagle at the par-5 18th to tie the eventual champ and was just 35 yards short of the target in two, but took four swings from there. It capped a somewhat disappointing finish for the Web.com Tour grad who for most of the day, was in the hunt for his first title in his 16th career start. Thru 15 holes, he was 2-under (16-under total) but missed his last three greens in regulation squaring two bogeys. Iwata was second for the week in birdies (22) despite being T52 in GIR (43/72), but first in putts per GIR at 1.535. His top 10 earns him a spot in this week’s Northern Trust Open where he’s making another tournament debut.
Lucas Glover: The 36-year-old nearly netted a back-door top 10 after being first in the clubhouse at 9-under 278 following a six-birdie 67 but settled for a T11 -- his first cash in the event in five tries. Up-and-down rounds over the three-course rota but two went pretty low (73-66-72-67).
Cameron Smith: Season-best T11 for the first-time member (though not a rookie) in his second AT&T (MC in 2014). Opened with bogey-free 7-under 64 (MP) and held on the rest of the way to post 9-under 278 (64-75-69-70). The 22-year-old Aussie had missed four of six cuts in 2015-16 with a previous best of T37 at the no-cut CIMB.
Dustin Johnson: The two-time and last back-to-back Pebble Beach champion (2009 and 2010) had also boasted three top-fives in his last four appearances, including a T2 in 2014. He left his ninth visit – after nary a whimper – at 2-under 285 (70-73-71-71) and T41.
Brandt Snedeker: The defending and two-time AT&T champ set tournament scoring records in each of his two wins, but never played a starring role this week with zero rounds in the 60s. His 3-under 284 (72-71-70-71) netted him a T35, 14 shots adrift of the champion. On the plus side, the 35-year-old moves atop the FEC standings, 10 points clear of Kevin Kisner who was idle.
Jordan Spieth: World No. 1 posted the only bogey-free round in the finale, chasing 71-69-74 with a 6-under 66, but was never a factor. The pre-tourney odds-fave (9/2) had posted top 10s in each of the last two editions, but settles for a back-door T21.
Kevin Na: The 32-year-old was the highest-ranked OWGRer (No. 23) to miss the scheduled 54-hole cut. He opened in 67 but crashed and burned to 74 and 79. Na had posted a pair of top-5 finishes here in his previous four visits. To a bit-lesser extent, sixth-ranked Bubba Watson was a T70/MDF (73-68-74) in his third appearance and first since a T44 in 2007.
Sung Kang: Followed an opening 72 with a career-best and tourney-low 11-under 60 (MP) to co-lead after 36 holes with Iwata. It was his first 36-hole lead/co-lead in his 58th career start. The 28-year-old closed his third AT&T in 70 and 77 out of the penultimate pairing on Sunday to settle for T17.
The TOUR stays in California but heads south for this week’s Northern Trust Open where James Hahn defends after defeating Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in a playoff. Spieth highlights the 144-man field that includes newly-demoted World No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who’s making his tourney debut. Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 14th tournament of the season.