SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — TPC Scottsdale and the Phoenix Open will always hold a special place in Gary Woodland’s heart.
In 2009, the tournament — then the FBR Phoenix Open — marked the first time the Topeka native and Shawnee Heights graduate made the cut in a PGA tournament.
As fond as that memory has been, it’s been replaced. On Sunday, Woodland updated the memory bank with one that will stick out even more, capturing his third PGA Tour title when he beat Chez Reavie on the first playoff hole of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The victory was Woodland’s first on tour since 2013.
“It’s been awhile,” said Woodland, who earned $1.24 million for the biggest triumph of his career. “It’s been a long road. I haven’t won since ’13, but I’ve been close a lot. It’s been a frustrating five years, but I’ve battled through it.”
Shooting a 7-under 64 in Sunday’s final round, Woodland was the leader in the clubhouse at 18 under, waiting to see if anyone could catch him after emerging from a crowded leaderboard with birdies on three straight holes starting at No. 15. As one contender after another faded, only Reavie was left with a chance — one that became a long one when Reavie bogeyed No. 16 to fall back to 16 under.
Having to make birdies on his final two holes to tie Woodland, Reavie did just that. He chipped close for birdie on No. 17 and then made a clutch 21-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff.
Reavie appeared to have the upper hand in the playoffs when Woodland’s drive on No. 18 found the left bunkers while Reavie safely found the fairway. Instead, Reavie missed the green left with his approach while Woodland found the front fringe with his shot from the bunker.
After Reavie’s punch-and-run chip checked up and left him a testy 15-footer, Woodland putted to a foot for a sure-fire par. Reavie’s par putt just burned the left edge of the cup, leaving Woodland to tap in for the victory.
Immediately afterward, he kissed his fingers and pointed to the sky.
“That was just kind of a tribute to last year,” Woodland said of the gesture, referring to the personal tragedy he and his family endured when his wife, Gabby, lost one of the two twins the couple was expecting in late March. “We lost a little girl and being there seeing my wife give birth to her, it was real. I just wanted her to know I still love her.”
Gabby and Gary did celebrate the birth of the other twin, Jaxson Lynn, on June 24, 2017. And following Sunday’s victory, Gabby surprised her husband by bringing their son to the course, where he could share in Woodland’s first victory as a father.
“He’s the miracle,” Woodland told CBS Sports on Sunday while holding Jaxson following his victory. “He puts this in perspective really good. I mean, it obviously was a long year for us, but I’m very happy — one, to be holding him and to be where I’m at right now.”
Woodland can certainly be happy with where his game is. He was on a roll a year ago when the tragedy occurred, and it took Woodland a while to get his groove back. He finished the season strong but admitted he “couldn’t wait for 2018 to start and 2017 to be over with.”
He posted solid finishes in his first two events of 2018, finishing in a tie for seventh at the Sony Open and following with a tie for 12th at the Farmer’s Insurance Open last week.
In both of those tournaments, Woodland had one round that ultimately cost him a shot at challenging for a win. It’s been something Woodland admitted has been problematic during his drought.
“It’s been coming, but I just haven’t played a tournament in five years where I’ve put four rounds together,” he said. “Expectations were up, but you need results. That’s the world we live in.
“Butch (Harmon, Woodland’s swing coach) sent me a text Thursday morning before I played and said, ‘Forget about everything else, just put four rounds together. Don’t worry about what you shoot, don’t worry about winning, just put four rounds together.’ I don’t know if that put me at ease or not, but that’s what I did.”
Woodland put himself in contention with rounds of 67, 68 and 67 the first three days in Phoenix. More importantly, he began Sunday by not shooting himself out of contention.
In fact, he called a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 2 the key to his round.
“I made a putt and I hadn’t gotten off to good starts on Sundays,” he said. “Last week, I was in contention and then was four over through five. To see a putt go in on two and then get up and down and see another putt go in on three, I knew it could be a special day.”
Indeed, it was. Woodland carded a 5-under 30 on the front nine to gain a share of the lead at 16 under, then overcame bogeys at Nos. 11 and 14 with birdies at Nos. 13, 15, 16 and 17. He could have locked up the title on No. 18, standing over a 10-foot putt for birdie to get to 19 under, but he left it inches short, leaving the door open for Reavie’s heroics.
In the end, however, Woodland made the shots to secure his third tour win, the other victories coming at the 2011 Transitions Championship and the 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open.
“I didn’t even know I made nine birdies today,” said Woodland, who led the field in birdies with 25. “I was in the zone, in the moment all day trying to give myself a chance and get on the green. When the putter’s rolling, great things happen for me.”