Taylor Moore's magical Sunday at Valspar is the day he has dreamed about
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Moore comes from four shots back to win the Valspar
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – On a frenzied Sunday on a cool, mostly overcast, and breezy afternoon at the Valspar Championship, most fans in the partisan crowd pushed their chips toward the center of the table figuring a rather reliable golfer from Dallas to be the last man standing. They were right, sort of, or at least had the city; they just had the wrong guy winning.
Jordan Spieth, a 13-time winner, a past Valspar champion and by far the crowd favorite at Innisbrook's challenging Copperhead Course, was trying to give everyone what they wanted as he tried to close out his first victory in nearly a year at a venue where he has had great success. Why, he even turned in 15 holes of what he termed “boring” golf, the steady stuff, with three birdies and nary a single bogey on the card when he reached the par-4 16th tee. He shared the lead at 10 under with only three holes remaining. That's often the place Spieth morphs a super hero.
But there Spieth produced one of his worst swings of the week, rinsing his tee shot with his 3-wood deep into a right-side pond that guards the dogleg. He required a near-miracle just to save bogey. Adam Schenk, who led the golf tournament from Thursday on, hit a poor drive at the 72nd hole that finished, of all places, directly behind a tree. His second shot was struck sideways, left-handed, and he was unable to get up-and-down to a difficult hole location from 101 yards to force extra holes with a par.
Adam Schenk makes costly bogey on No. 18 at Valspar
Facing 48 feet to match Moore at 10-under 264, Schenk’s last-ditch putt caught a portion of the hole and flagstick, but had far too much pace to ever fall. He finished second by himself when Spieth missed his short downhill par putt.
“Second place being my best finish ever, I haven't had a ton of top 10s on the PGA TOUR,” said Schenk, who was playing for the 10th consecutive week. “So, I mean, I want to close one out someday, but how many chances am I going to have, so I'm not leaving this putt short. I'm getting it to the hole.”
As contenders exited one by one, it left a smiling second year TOUR pro from Dallas by way Oklahoma (his birthplace) and Arkansas (his college town) to figure out what just had happened. Taylor Moore was hitting practice balls to stay loose for what appeared to be a sure playoff when he received the best news of his career. He had struck his last shot of the afternoon. Suddenly, he was a PGA TOUR champion. His day’s work was done. And what a great day it had been.
Having started his day two shots behind Schenk, and playing in only his 46th career start, Moore was terrific, showing a fearlessness that belied his resume. He stuffed an approach in tight to set up birdie at 12; he birdied the par-3 15th with a 9-iron to 6 feet; and he followed that with a bold birdie from the left pine straw at 16, a hole that troubled so many others. Of a thin lie in the straw following a poor tee shot, Moore was hoping to get something to the middle of the green, and pulled off a shot better than he'd hoped. His ball finished 27 feet away, and he holed the put to get to 10 under. A long bunker save at 17 and a beautiful two-putt from just off the front of the green at 18 – a finish of a champion – allowed Moore to post at 10-under 274. It was up to the others to get in unscathed. They did not.
Spieth, for one, believed the trophy was down to three players late Sunday – himself, Schenk and Tommy Fleetwood, who made a bad bogey with a poor second shot at the par-5 14th – and was caught by surprise to see Moore's name pop on the board at 10 under. So were a lot of people, frankly. Except Moore.
Taylor Moore's clutch birdie on No. 16 is the Shot of the Day
“I might have been under the radar to some people watching, but I felt like I was in the golf tournament from the time I teed off today,” Moore said, “and was just excited to control what I could control and get it done.”
Moore’s closing 4-under 67 was three shots better than each of his four closest pursuers, which speaks to the quality of the round. Moore’s great joy – he did not own a top-10 finish this season before Sunday, and now will have a spot in his first major championship, the 87th Masters Tournament, next month – delivered some considerable heartache to others. Spieth, for one, who a day after an erratic third-round 70, played much steadier in the final round, even if his final number (another 70) didn’t really show it.
After his round, Spieth scooped up his young son, Sammy, and was pointed for home in Texas, in hopes that there are better days ahead this week in Austin.
“I made two bad swings today.” Spieth said. “I got away with the one on six and I didn't get away with the one on 16. Fought hard from there and made a nice bogey and then a nice couple shots on the last couple, and that 18th pin is just brutal there.
"You just can't rely on having to birdie that hole."
Spieth’s best chance to tie came on the par-3 17th, where he struck a tee shot to 7 feet, but his putt for birdie turned right at the cup. Schenk, who is weeks away from being a first-time father (his wife, Kourtney, flew to Tampa from Indiana early Sunday to see him chase his first title), toed a drive left at the worst time possible, doing it on the 72nd hole. That was compounded by a bad break, with his ball coming to rest up against a tree. But Schenk fought hard without his best stuff on Sunday, shot 70, and came away with a career-best finish and a little momentum.
"He’s one of the smartest guys out here," said his caddie, David Cooke, who was teammates with Schenk for a year at Purdue. "He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get around the golf course as good as anybody. He doesn’t have to have his ‘A’ game to score, because he knows his game and how to get around.
"I'm proud of my guy. He played amazing."
Moore is a former travel baseball player (his father coached baseball at Arkansas, among other stops) turned pro golfer who hits it long and is known to have a solid work ethic back at the facilty at which he plays and practices in Texas, Maridoe Golf Club near Dallas. (Spieth is a member, too, and played junior events against him, but said he does not know Moore very well.)
Moore had a harrowing health experience a few years back when he sustained a collapsed lung. He was on his way to the airport to fly to an event, and found himself at a traffic intersection. He could turn left, toward the airport, and try to catch his flight. Or he could turn right, toward the hospital. He is thankful he made the decision to turn right. He had surgery, and the recovery just further delayed his path to fulfill a dream by getting out to the PGA TOUR. He knew he would get there eventually.
He did so by playing such circuits as the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada and through the Korn Ferry Tour, through which he earned a card for 2021-22. He was 67th in the FedExCup standings as a rookie, and with Sunday's victory, he was projected to move somewhere near 50th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I don't think there was any doubt internally that I was going to get out here,” said Moore, whose final 6-footer for par at 18 left him 64-for-64 inside 7 feet for the week. “I think it was more of getting frustrated how long it was taking to get out here, because I knew deep down I could be out here and compete and show everybody what I could do in this game.”
Taylor Moore, your newest PGA TOUR champion, has the trophy to prove it.