I have always been very impressed whenever I’ve watched Gary Woodland, who won the Phoenix Open on Sunday. While not as tall as Dustin Johnson, he has the same gait and swagger as his fellow American.
Woodland has not been prolific, though. This was his first win for five years and only his third in total on the PGA Tour, due to a number of factors including injury and personal tragedy.
The 33-year-old had a particularly tough 2017, with the heartbreaking loss of his and his wife’s unborn daughter in March. His results suffered after that and he only scraped into the Tour Championship.
But Woodland has started this year well and secured a great victory in Arizona at the weekend, beating local boy Chez Reavie in a play-off to round off a hugely exciting event.
It was some finish. Reavie led by two shots at one stage but found himself trailing by two after a bogey at 16. He then birdied 17 and 18 to enter the play-off as red-hot favourite only to bogey the first extra hole – and Woodland, with a fantastic second shot, took advantage.
So much of a player’s performance can be determined by his happiness at home, and Woodland appears to have found his, following the birth of son Jaxson, whose health had also been in doubt after the death of his twin.
The public don’t tend to know what’s going on behind the scenes, at least until later. This is a great story and a great victory for him, and you could see it being the turning of a corner.
Woodland has put himself in a good position to make a Ryder Cup debut in France later this year and is back in the top 30 of the world rankings. He’s one to watch at the Masters too, as Augusta is his type of course.
Reavie did have his chance but couldn’t have done much more, and in the end played his part in a brilliant event.
Phil Mickelson clearly relished being back in contention and, when you look at what evergreen Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez has achieved, there’s no reason why Mickelson can’t end his own drought and win again at the age of 47.
Rickie Fowler, who led overnight, played beautifully and could have been two or three ahead but simply couldn’t buy a putt and his challenge fell apart.
Sharma takes early Race To Dubai lead
On the European Tour, meanwhile, there were further signs of a star emerging in the form of Shubhankar Sharma, who won the Maybank Championship in Malaysia with a stunning final round of 62.
The Indian is only 21 and won his first event on the tour at the Joburg Open in December, but less than two months later he is already a two-time winner and leads the Race To Dubai standings.
It’s extraordinary, and the fact that he has been able to win in such diverse places – both times shooting very low scores – is particularly impressive.
At the same event, England’s Chris Paisley continued his good form, finishing in the top 30 to cement his top-five position in the Race To Dubai.
Big guns line up at Pebble Beach
I’m really looking forward to seeing how Rory McIlroy gets on this week at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he faces a top quality field.
Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, will also be in action on one of the great courses.
It can be a tough event for the pros due to the length of the rounds but it promises to be fun to watch.