By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
Rickie Fowler delivered his best performance of the tournament when it mattered most and shot a blistering course record 61 (-11) on the final day to claim the 2017 Hero World Challenge title.
Fowler shot -18 for the event to finish well ahead of the field and surpass Charley Hoffman, entered the final day with a five-stroke lead at the Albany Golf Course.
He started the final round with seven straight birdies to earn his second tour win of the year and move into the No.7 spot in the world.
“It was pretty special. Obviously, it’s not a full-field event, but the 18 guys
that are here I feel like we’ve all earned our way here. In a way this tournament’s always I
feel like been looked at as a celebration of, like I said, earning your way here. No one gets
here by mistake,” he said, “It was a great week here. Obviously, I knew I needed to get off to a hot start today to give myself a chance, and Charley’s been playing some solid golf and I wasn’t expecting him to come back to me, I knew I was going to have to go out and get him. Like I said, get off to a decent start and at least show my face a little bit. I wasn’t expecting seven out of the gate, but I’ll take it.”
Fowler’s previous win on tour this year was at the Honda Classic and he was tied for third in last year’s Heo World Challenge.
“I think coming off of this past year, being arguably one of my best years when you look across the board stat-wise, I didn’t win as much as I would have liked to. But that being said, the two events that I’ve played through I guess my mini offseason, Mayakoba and finishing second there and put myself in a position to win, and then coming here and not necessarily being in contention but going out there and putting myself in a position to go win. After the hot start with these two finishes through the fall going into what will be a little break before we go to Maui, I’m looking forward to next year,” he said, “I think the big thing was to not, I guess, not lose what we had going this past year because it was a very solid year across the board, and I think what we’re going to work on going forward is just picking up a few of the little things that could have made just that -- just that difference to put us in the winner’s circle more on Sunday because we gave ourselves a lot of chances. No, this is a nice way to go into Christmas.”
Hoffman finished four back at -14 for the event.
“You know what, actually hit it off the tee better than I had all week,
just irons weren’t quite as sharp today. The par 5s I was in position, (inaudible) iron shots in
on my second shots and just never really got anything going, never had a chance. Rickie
obviously had it going all day and I didn’t, but it was nice to see him play well,” Hoffman said, “You know, I played good, just didn’t play as good as I needed to
today. Mostly I didn’t think someone’s going to go out and shoot 11 under par. With that, I
got sort of steamrolled.”
Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood, who is set to be married in the Bahamas tomorrow were tied for third at -12 for the event. Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Justin Rose shot -11 to tie for fifth place.
Reed was paired with Fowler for the afternoon and got to witness his historic round firsthand.
“Yeah, just made me look like I was playing absolutely horribly. You know, I felt like I was playing some solid golf there through seven holes. I was three under par and next thing you know he’s seven under par. Yeah, kind of one of those things where he was hitting the ball really solid. Once he got his speed down on the first hole making the first putt, it just seemed like the hole was about the size of a dinner plate, he just never missed. It was awesome to watch. It was good to see. But man, that was an impressive front nine.” Reed said.
The return of Tiger Woods was again the focal point at the Hero World Challenge for the second consecutive year.
Tournament host Woods played for the first time since he withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic on February 3 with back spasms. He had a fourth back surgery two months later and been sidelined ever since.
Woods shot -8 to tie for ninth place.
“I’m excited. This is the way I’ve been playing at home and when I came
out here and played, I was playing very similar to this. Not quite hitting it as far, but I had the
adrenaline going and overall I’m very pleased. I’m excited the way this week has gone on. With not only as the competitive rounds but also all the functions at night. I still got my training in. It was a very good week,” he said, “Well, I knew I was going to be able to play all four rounds, that wasn’t
going to be an issue. I played a lot at home. Came down here, I played, so that wasn’t
going to be the issue. The issue was how was my scoring going to be, how was my feel,
how am I going to get used to the adrenaline in my system for the first time in a while. You
know, that took a little bit of time. I was still good with my irons, I drove it pretty good all
week, made some good putts. But overall I’m very pleased. I showed some good signs, I
hit some really good shots out there and a bright future.”
The 18-man field featured eight of the top 10 in the world rankings.
The Hero World Challenge is a four-round, 72-hole stroke play event with a $3.5 million purse, a $1 million winner’s prize and Official World Golf Ranking points awarded. Live television coverage of the Hero World Challenge is provided by Golf Channel during all four rounds and by NBC during the third and fourth rounds. The Tiger Woods Foundation is the event’s primary charitable beneficiary, along with the Tavistock Foundation and Bahamas Youth Foundation.