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Taylor rides hot putter to Phoenix win

Nick Taylor Nick Taylor - The Canadian Press

Just as he did in Canada last June, Nick Taylor needed some extra holes to secure a PGA Tour win. While the winning putt at the WM Phoenix Open may not have been quite as dramatic as the one at the RBC Canadian Open, it was still the final stroke to a thrilling performance that gave him his fourth career PGA Tour title.

Taylor rolled in an 11-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to defeat Charley Hoffman. It was the Canadian’s fifth birdie in his final six holes as he found another gear late in the day.

“The finish was pretty dreamlike,” stated Taylor, who finished second in this same tournament a year ago. “Making all those putts when I needed to was a lot of fun, and the atmosphere has been incredible all week.”

Taylor’s putter was incredible all week too, starting with his opening round 60. He finished first in Strokes Gained: Putting picking up almost nine shots on the field on the greens. Time after time he seemed to find the bottom of the cup, often from some distance.

His wedge play wasn’t far behind. On each of the last six holes, he hit his approach inside 15 feet, setting up those five birdies.

It was a long day for Taylor, who first had to play 12 holes from his third round Sunday morning as the field tried to catch up after several lengthy rain delays throughout the week. In the restart, he bogeyed two of his first three holes but played the back nine in four-under to take the lead into the final 18.

He began his final round with a string of pars, including a remarkable save on the par-5 third when he got up-and-down from a fairway bunker 125 yards from the green after being forced to take a penalty.

He quickly righted the ship with birdies on three of the last four on the front side, riding that hot putter to drain two from around 15 feet.

On the back side, his game again stalled and Hoffman began to roll, going eagle-birdie-birdie on 13, 14 and 15. Hoffman finished up at 21-under and then waited to see if anyone could catch him.

Taylor began to battle with an errant driver and when he got to the 15th hole, he was three back of the lead. A great wedge shot to three feet gave him his first birdie. On the infamous and boisterous par-3 16th hole, he hit his shot to six feet for another birdie.

After missing a chance at the 17th, he came to 18 needing a birdie to force a playoff and calmly rolled a 10-footer that dropped in the side.

“That hung on the right side and snuck in there,” Taylor said, “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.”

After both he and Hoffman tied the first playoff hole with birdies, Hoffman missed his second attempt. Taylor, as he had done all week, calmly rolled in the winner to secure his fourth PGA Tour win.

“I think just enjoying it,” answered Taylor when asked how he was able to focus so intently in these high-pressure situations. “Everything leading up to playing kind of sucks. You're nervous. I don't eat very well when I'm nervous, preparing for a round. But when I start hitting balls, I get comfortable, you're kind of in your own world. It's the position you want to be in, but the leading up to it is definitely not how I want to feel.”

But after winning, Taylor was feeling just fine. Especially since the victory pushed him closer to reaching two goals. The first is to play for Canada in the Olympics this summer and the second is to be a part of the International Team and play for captain Mike Weir at the Presidents Cup in September in Montreal.

“Looking at goals for the season, what I've done so well I think the last year has been process goals,” said Taylor, who will move to 26th on the Official World Golf Ranking. “But you want something to look forward too, and the Olympics and the Presidents Cup were big-time on the top of my goal list.”

Taylor joined some exclusive company with the win, becoming just the fifth Canadian male to win four or more times on the PGA Tour, joining Al Balding, George Knudson, Mike Weir and Stephen Ames. One of Knudson’s wins was the Phoenix Open which he captured in 1968.

Taylor will be back in action next week at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles.