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(Ethan Briggs/Cronkite News)
(Ethan Briggs/Cronkite News)

Canadian Clutch! Nick Taylor takes 2024 WM Phoenix Open

Nick Taylor might be the most clutch player in golf.

Down three shots with four holes to play at the 2024 WM Phoenix Open, it appeared Taylor was headed for a runner-up finish for a second consecutive year. However, birdies on the 15th, 16th and 18th holes were enough to force a playoff with 47-year-old veteran Charley Hoffman. The Canadian delivered in dramatic fashion, just as he did last June at the RBC Canadian Open, by birding the 18th twice more in extra holes to claim his fourth victory on the PGA Tour.

Taylor had to battle early, on a day he played 32 holes after weather delays throughout the week forced the conclusion of the third round and the entirety of the fourth to be played on Sunday. After bogeys on two of his first three holes of the day after play resumed, Taylor fought on the back nine during both of his rounds to set up a theatric finish.

“I didn't have it early on today and was trying to hang in there as long as I could,” Taylor said. “Making all those putts when I needed to was a lot of fun, and the atmosphere has been incredible all week.”

After a bogey on the ninth hole during his third round, Taylor did not drop a shot the rest of the tournament as his short game heated up on the Stadium Course. While playing the 15th hole during the final round, he chose to lay up short of the island green and hit a wedge to 3 feet from 88 yards out setting him up for birdie and starting his late rally as he stepped up to the 16th tee box.

“The last I saw, Charley was at 21 (under), so I knew in the back of my mind I needed to make at least two birdies,” Taylor said. “The number and the wind were perfect for what I needed to hit. It was a 9-iron. I started it at the 16 in the background and drew it in, and it worked out perfectly.”

He hit his shot to inside 6 feet and made a second birdie in a row to get to 20-under par, one shot back with two holes to play. While many players like to attack the drivable par-4 17th hole, Taylor was careful with a wedge in his hand inside of 50 yards, to try to avoid a mistake many players have made in the past.

“I would have loved to have been aggressive on that pitch, but I felt like I've seen it too many times in the past if you try to force it there you can run it off into the water, and didn't want to spoil my chances there,” the 35-year-old said.

Taylor would two-putt for par from 13 feet to set the stage on the finishing hole: one shot back with one hole to play.

His drive on the 18th hole missed the fairway right as he left himself 141 yards to the pin, needing to make birdie to force extra holes. His approach shot landed just past the front-right hole location, leaving him a 9-foot, 6-inch putt to force a playoff with Hoffman.

“I had nothing to lose there in a sense where I had a bit of a buffer on second place. So many of these reads out here are very subtle,” Taylor said. “That hung on the right side and snuck in there, which was obviously great, but it was kind of a win-win in the sense where I had nothing to lose. If it missed, I finished solo second, so I just gave it a run.”

The run Taylor gave the putt helped post a 6-under 65 in the final round and send himself and Hoffman back to the 18th tee for what ended up being the first of two playoff holes. Both players found the center of the fairway and had looks for birdie, Taylor was first to play from just over 14 feet away and his early walk put the pressure on Hoffman to do the same and send the two back to the tee again for a second playoff hole.

This time, both players missed the fairway, but Taylor ended up in nearly the exact spot he had in regulation, missing the fairway just right. Hoffman was away, and narrowly missed his putt for birdie, clearing the stage for Taylor to capture the championship. There was no added weight on Taylor’s shoulders, who relied on his instincts to win “The People’s Open.”

“Stick to the routines, and I work on my routine a lot, which when you get in those moments if you feel comfortable in your routine, kind of settle your heart rate down, it's just kind of hit another putt,” Taylor said. “I had such a good feel on the greens the entire week that I felt like when we just read it, it was just hit the putt and stay out of my own way, and that's what I tried to do.”

The confidence Taylor has gained since playing with Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm in the final round of the 2023 WM Phoenix Open, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world at the time, showed on Sunday as he continues to ride the wave that helped him win his national Open last summer.

“It's been fun to be in those moments. I think last year I drew a lot on for the Canadian Open and I've drawn on that for plenty of moments, as well,” Taylor said. “For whatever reason it is, the latter it gets, I just seem to get a little more locked in and zoned in and kind of relish those moments, and it's been a lot of fun.”

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