Nick Taylor is built for biggest moments
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Canadian wins WM Phoenix Open on second playoff hole
Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Nick Taylor stood on the par-3 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open on a chilly yet sun-kissed Sunday afternoon in the Arizona desert, with a chance to send the fans into a frenzy on golf’s loudest hole. The soft-spoken Taylor – former world No. 1 amateur, winner of last year’s RBC Canadian Open – relished the amped-up setting.
Taylor, 35, took the tee, needing two birdies in his last three holes to force a playoff with Charley Hoffman. He conferred with caddie Dave Markle on the yardage (167), opting for a 9-iron rather than an 8-iron. They had hit 8-iron from 172 yards on the prior hole, but they knew the stadium 16th required a few yards of amp adjustment. It was the perfect club; the ball landed 6 feet right of the hole. Birdie. He added a birdie at No. 18 to force a playoff, and he defeated Hoffman with an 11-foot birdie on the second extra hole after both matched 21 under 263 at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course. It’s Taylor’s fourth victory on the PGA TOUR.
Nick Taylor’s Sunday highlights from WM Phoenix Open
Among Taylor’s four TOUR titles: the 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach Open, last year’s RBC Canadian Open (his national open), and now golf’s most raucous stroke-play event at the WM Phoenix Open. Some could write off two as a coincidence, but winning on three iconic stages is a trend. Taylor’s game shines under the bright lights. He proved it on a dramatic Sunday, completing 30 holes in regulation and two in the playoff to deliver the W.
“He’s just got it, man. Either you do or you don’t,” said Markle, who played against Taylor in a 2008 Canadian Amateur quarterfinal match; Taylor won, but they’ve been good friends since. “I’ve been fortunate to know him since he was the No. 1 amateur in the world, and he had it then. When he gets himself in the mix, he knows how to do it, and it’s no different out here. He’s just a competitor. He’s fiery, he wants it, and he’s pretty good, and he just gets it done.”
Taylor’s last six approach shots Sunday landed inside 15 feet – four in regulation, two in overtime. Five led to birdie. When the lights were brightest at golf’s rowdiest event – which reached capacity attendance Saturday, with beer sales suspended – Taylor delivered time and again.
The Canadian avenged a runner-up at last year’s WM Phoenix Open, where he matched Scottie Scheffler’s final-round 65 but finished two shots back. Scheffler made another run on a marathon Sunday at TPC Scottsdale – he made 11 birdies in his first 16 holes Sunday (beginning the day on the eighth hole of Round 3). Taylor admitted he thought, “Oh boy,” when he noticed Scheffler making a run.
But this was his scene, his moment. Taylor gained confidence from matching Scheffler shot-for-shot at last year’s WM, which snowballed into delivering a piece of Canadian golf history at the RBC Canadian Open – a winning 72-foot eagle on the fourth playoff hole against Tommy Fleetwood, becoming the event’s first Canadian winner since 1954. That snowballed into Sunday, as the crowds alternated between “U! S! A!” chants and “O Canada!” Taylor moved to Scottsdale shortly after graduating from the University of Washington in 2010, but he knew the U.S. supporters were taking a jab at him. That was OK. At the end, the Canadian fans – several waving red-and-white flags – were the last ones singing.
Nick Taylor wins RBC Canadian Open
“I think you go back a year when he was in the final group here … and he went toe-to-toe with Scheffler down to the very end," said fellow Canadian Adam Hadwin, sporting the same green hoodie he wore to congratulate Taylor at last year’s RBC Canadian Open. (That year, he was memorably tackled by a security officer while running onto the green. This year, he waited a few minutes before touching the putting surface. “I learned my lesson,” he quipped.) "Since then, he’s proven himself in the biggest moments. ... I think he’s proven to be one of the best in the world in the last year, for sure."
If the world isn’t convinced yet, that’s fine. Taylor doesn’t mind. He’s humble and hungry, a golf-loving, sports-loving family man who lives the mindset of getting 1% better each day.
Those 1% increments have led him to great heights. He’s projected to reach No. 26 in the world, the highest position of his career, and he’s continuing to build his case for a spot on the International Team at this fall’s Presidents Cup, contested at Royal Montreal in his native Canada. When Taylor mitigates a left-miss tendency, Markle noted, he contends. He has also found consistency on the greens through a switch to the claw putting grip, which delivered under Sunday’s microscope.
Taylor’s demeanor isn’t flashy, but his game in pressure situations is a different matter. His approach from the right rough on the 72nd hole landed 10 feet behind the hole. He buried it. He drained a 15-foot birdie on the first playoff hole (again the 18th), and another birdie from 11 feet on the second playoff hole, the 18th again, to seal it. He shot a final-round 65.
Nick Taylor makes clutch birdie on 72nd hole to force playoff at WM Phoenix Open
“I think last year was a huge stepping stone in my career to play with (Jon) Rahm and Scottie in the final group (at the WM), one, two in the world and really stand my own … gave me a lot of confidence,” Taylor said. “So to ride that the rest of the year and win my national Open in the fashion that I did was incredible. It's been fun to be in those moments. I think last year I drew a lot on for the (RBC) Canadian Open and I've drawn on that for plenty of moments, as well. For whatever reason it is, the later it gets, I just seem to get a little more locked in and zoned in and kind of relish those moments, and it's been a lot of fun.”
Nick Taylor news conference after winning WM Phoenix Open
Earlier in his career, he admitted Sunday, Taylor struggled to maintain consistency for lengthy stretches. Across his first eight seasons on TOUR, he finished better than No. 93 on the FedExCup just once (No. 48 in 2020). Last year was a breakthrough, his win in Canada and WM runner-up leading to a No. 25 finish on the season-long standings. He moved to sixth on the FedExCup with Sunday’s victory at TPC Scottsdale.
For Taylor, final-round contention on TOUR doesn’t come naturally per se. The idle moments before a round can cause consternation. But the arena is a different story. He craves it. It’s his comfort zone. He locks in, the crowd fervor maybe even sharpening his focus.
“Everything leading up, I feel like, to playing kind of sucks,” Taylor said. “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.
“I said at the (RBC) Canadian Open, I'd want to soak it up as much as I could, because you never know when it's going to happen again, and for it to happen again nine or 10 months later, I'm going to celebrate this one, as well.”
Saturday morning’s “Breakfast Club” tradition at the WM inspires fans to dress creatively for a morning stampede to the 16th hole’s grandstands. This year, several fans dressed as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, complete with red uniforms and broad-brimmed hats. These Mounties were asked which player engendered their support this weekend. In a pre-dawn haze, as a steady rain fell upon the gravelly service road that serves as a racetrack, they professed their faith in Taylor.
Fans on the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale at the WM Phoenix Open. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
“We’re going to watch Nick Taylor take it home,” they predicted. “He’s an electric factory.”
Those words held true Sunday, as they have before and likely will again.
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.