After staring down Phil, Taylor can stop living on the edge
February 09, 2020
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Nick Taylor goes wire-to-wire to win at AT&T Pebble Beach
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The first time her husband won a PGA TOUR event, Andie Taylor was working her final shift as a full-time social worker at Abbotsford Regional Hospital in their native Canada. Nick was in Mississippi, shooting a final-round 66 at the 2014 Sanderson Farms Championship. It was the fourth start of his rookie season.
A day later, Nick returned home. Andie, now with no job demands, met him at the airport. They talked about the future. Thanks to his two-year exemption as a TOUR winner, the pressure was off for now. No concerns about Nick’s job security. The young couple enjoyed the moment.
On Sunday, Nick Taylor won his second TOUR event, shooting a gritty 2-under 70 to go wire-to-wire at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am while staring down a World Golf Hall of Famer in the final group. “Nick played better than I did,” said Phil Mickelson, the 44-time TOUR winner who shot a 74. Phil’s sixth win in this event was treated by some as fait accompli. Even a Toronto Star headline Sunday morning declared, Canada’s Taylor in Mickelson’s way at Pebble Beach.
Except it wasn’t.
This time, Andie was on hand to watch her husband win. So was their 3-month-old son, Charlie, who had spent most of the morning in daycare. Andie cradled their baby as Nick walked off the 18th green at Pebble Beach. Unlike that first win 5-plus years ago, they wouldn’t have to wait a day to discuss their future. Another two-year exemption awaits, and he’s now 13th in FedExCup points.
Given that Nick has lived on the edge of the FedExCup standings since his last exemption ran out, it’s nice to breathe again.
“I was never really worried about him keeping his card or not,” Andie said. “I know when it’s there, he clutches up. …
“But it is a big relief.”
In his first five TOUR seasons, Taylor’s only finish inside the top 100 of the FedExCup standings came in 2017, when he finished 93rd. The previous year, he had finished 129th and did not make the Playoffs, but because of that win in Mississippi, he kept his TOUR card. A year ago, he spent all but two week of the regular season in 90th or worse, eventually finishing 120th.
In 2018, Taylor arrived at the regular-season finale, the Wyndham Championship, again ranked 129th in the standings. This time, there was no exemption to fall back on. He needed a big week but through three rounds at Sedgefield, Taylor was still projected to come up short. Weather issues forced the third round to be completed early on Sunday. A triple-bogey at the 14th had left the low-key Taylor particularly upset. He and caddie Jeff Willett understood what was at stake.
But as his wife already knew, Taylor knows how to clutch up. He shot a final-round 63 that afternoon, finished tied for eighth, and moved inside the coveted Top 125 (to 123) to keep his TOUR card. “He went out there,” recalled Willett, “and played unbelievable.”
On Sunday, paired with a legend – in fact, Taylor watched highlights of Mickelson’s short-game magic after round three just because he was curious – the Canadian drew upon the memory of that final-round rally at Wyndham. He knew how to deliver when it counted; it’s just that when you spend most of your time straddling the FedExCup cut-off, you don’t get many opportunities to show it off.
“It’s no fun hovering around that 125,” Taylor said. “I’ve been able to keep my card the last couple of years; did it a little bit earlier last year. But that final round is probably what I drew back on the most starting today.
“In the grand scheme of things, I was under way more pressure, I felt like, in that scenario than actually when I was trying to win today. … That was very crucial for my career – and it’s nice not having to do that again this year at least.”
From Taylor’s perspective, there were three key shots that defined Sunday’s performance – an eagle hole-out from the bunker at the par-5 sixth, giving him a two-shot cushion on Mickelson; a birdie hole-out from the rough at the 15th, a terrific response after his lone stumble of the round, a double bogey at the 14th; and an 8-iron off the tee at the par-3 17th that finished inside 7 feet for a birdie to leave no doubt about the outcome.
Nick Taylor jars bunker shot for eagle at AT&T Pebble Beach
His short game proved to be more effective than Mickelson’s on Sunday, no small feat given what Phil had produced the day before. Beating Phil at his own game may have a longer-lasting impact than the two-year exemption. He considered the final nine holes as match play after he and Mickelson separated from the pack.
“He took down Phil – I’m sure in the long run it’s going to be a big deal,” Willett said.
Said Taylor: “I wouldn’t say I was intimidated. I knew I was playing well and I knew the conditions were tough, so I just needed to keep doing what I was doing.”
Taylor now has two wins in 160 career starts. Many pro golfers would take that, but there may be bigger things on the horizon for the 31-year-old. Certainly more opportunities await him, including invites to the bigger events. Maybe he’ll represent Canada at the Olympics later this year – and maybe he’ll represent the International Team at next year’s Presidents Cup.
Winning so early in his career at Sanderson perhaps left him a bit satisfied. Now winning again and taking down Mickelson in the process will leave him hungry for more.
“This takes the pressure off, but I think he wants more,” Willett said. “We talk a lot about getting to where he feels he should be, and how we’re going to get there.”
Sunday was a big step. After spending the last few years battling to keep his card, it’s time to raise the stakes. It’s time to stop living on the edge.