PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It took three straight birdies on TPC Sawgrass' iconic 17th hole on the same afternoon for Rickie Fowler to win his first Players Championship.
Criticized at the beginning of the week by his peers as an underachiever, Fowler answered with the greatest finish in the 34-year history at the TPC Sawgrass. He rallied from a five-shot deficit on the back nine by playing the final six holes in 6-under par. In a three-hole playoff, he took on every shot.
Fowler's third birdie on 17 Sunday made him a sudden-death playoff winner over Kevin Kisner, who matched him shot-for-shot until the last one. Sergio Garcia, whose birdie on 18 in regulation, was eliminated in the first the three-hole playoff.
Fowler, 26, shot 8 under in the last 10 holes, including a three-hole playoff with Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia, then back to 17 a sudden death playoff with Kisner.
At a tournament that dresses up like a major, Fowler sure looked the part in beating the strongest field in golf.
"I'd say this was a pretty big one," Fowler said.
Fowler, who was first in the clubhouse at 12-under par, had to wait about an hour to go back on the course with Garcia and Kisner, but his game stayed hot.
Fowler, has been on both ends of the scoreboard at The Players. He was the runner-up in 2012 and an also-ran in four other appearances.
Fowler never seemed to miss over the final two hours Sunday, and he calmly clutched his fist to celebrate his first PGA Tour victory in three years.
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.