DAYS after being labelled “overrated” by his fellow players, Rickie Fowler produced the perfect response by winning the Players Championship in sensational style.
Fowler defeated Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia in a play-off after the trio finished tied on 12 under par following an extraordinary finish to the final round at Sawgrass.
Contesting the first three-hole aggregate play-off in tournament history, Garcia could only play the 16th, 17th and 18th in level par as Fowler and Kisner played them in one under thanks to birdies on the 17th.
And Fowler then repeated the trick on the first hole of sudden death to claim his second PGA Tour title in the week he and Ian Poulter were voted the most overrated players by their peers in an anonymous survey conducted by Sports Illustrated.
“It’s amazing,” Fowler told Sky Sports. “We obviously look at this as one of the biggest tournaments we play, up against the majors.
“This is a special week, everyone looks forward to it and I was just happy that I had a chance after my finish this afternoon to get into the play-off and to be here on 17 and get it done.
This is a special week, everyone looks forward to it and I was just happy that I had a chance after my finish this afternoon to get into the play-off and to be here on 17 and get it doneRickie Fowler
“I played well last week (in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play) and ended up losing on Saturday in the last 16. I felt like my game was where I wanted it. Unfortunately I did not play as well as I wanted to on Saturday here but we finished it off strong and proved to myself we’re back where I should be.”
Fowler, who finished in the top five in all four major championships last year, looked to have done enough to win in regulation after a record-breaking finish to his closing 67.
The 26-year-old had been one over for his round after a bogey on the 10th, but played the last six holes in six under par, taking a tournament-record 11 shots to finish birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie.
That gave him a two-shot lead after long-time leader Garcia had bogeyed the 14th, where he took off his shoes to play his second shot from a cart path, but the drama was far from done.
Garcia two-putted the 16th for birdie and then holed from 45 feet across the 17th green for another, before Ben Martin birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th and Kisner picked up shots on 16 and 17 to also reach 12 under.
Martin missed out on the play-off after a bogey on the 18th before Kisner agonisingly missed from 11 feet for a winning birdie on the same hole.
All three players missed the fairway on the first play-off hole, the par-five 16th, and could only manage to make par, but Kisner and Fowler both birdied the 17th while Garcia two-putted from long range.
Kisner and Fowler safely made par on the 18th after coming up just short of the green, but Garcia was unable to find the birdie he needed to join them in sudden death, missing a similar putt that he had in regulation.
That meant another trip to the infamous 17th but both players found the green and when Kisner missed his birdie attempt, Fowler calmly holed from five feet for a stunning victory.
Earlier, world number one Rory McIlroy was left to rue a poor putting display as he missed numerous birdie chances to card a closing 70 and finish eight under par.