RotoWire Partners

Phoenix Open Recap: Smallrus Comes Up Big

Len Hochberg

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years, covering the Washington Capitals. He co-authored a book on the history of hockey.

If everything broke right for Kevin Stadler at the final hole on Sunday, he would win for the first time in 239 PGA Tour starts, he would finally silence the naysayers after a bunch of misses throughout his career, he would secure an elite World Golf Championship event and he would become part of the first father-son combination to play in the same Masters. When Bubba Watson's par putt broke left, everything, in fact, did break right for Stadler.

The win at the Phoenix Open was a long time coming for the son of the Walrus, Craig Stadler. But there also was indication that a victory was not too far off. Always betrayed by his putter, even after he switched to the long putter, the younger Stadler had just two second-place finishes since playing his first PGA Tour event in 2002. But many other times, his putting cost him even more, so much so that final leader boards didn't even provide evidence he contended, when in fact it was yet another Sunday fade.

But the rest of Stadler's game has been getting better, and he played in three of the four FedEx Cup playoff events the past two years. While he finished 60th, 158th and 152nd, respectively, in strokes gained-putting from 2011-2013, he finished seventh in the all-around category last year, behind only, get this, Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. That means Stadler was ahead of Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson, among many other standouts. But other golfers know how sound the rest of his game is.

Truth be told, his putting nearly did him in again on Sunday, as he missed three putts from inside of four feet and a birdie chance from just inside of 11 feet on No. 18 that would've secured the victory and rendered Watson's five-footer for par moot.

But playing down the block from his home, just three days before turning 34, and wearing the blue and orange of his beloved Denver Broncos, Stadler finally closed the deal, setting off an outpouring of congratulatory tweets from his fellow pros and others in the golf community.

The outcome also created the feel-good story of the young golf season, as Stadler will get to play in the Masters along with his father - and after also climbing from 127th to 57th in the world rankings, he locked up a spot in the WGC Accenture World Match-Play Championship later this month. The elder Stadler won the 1982 Masters and, now at age 60, has been hoping his son would get a call to Augusta, as he says the course is just too long for him to continue playing there. So in what may be Craig Stadler's final Masters, it would be an even better story if he were paired with his son, affectionately known as Smallrus. Albeit a 250-pound Smallrus.

MONDAY BACKSWING

Bubba Watson

We saw the full gamut of Watson's game on the final hole on Sunday. He pulled his drive into the rough on the par-4, 438-yard 18th, overshot the green with his approach, leaving an all-but-impossible up-and-down, but then remarkably chipped to five feet. The missed putt left him tied for second with Graham DeLaet. Watson is winless since he became a Masters champion in 2012.

Graham DeLaet

The Canadian continues to show that last season was no fluke, and that his first PGA Tour victory likely is not far off. DeLaet turned in the round of the day on Sunday with a 6-under 66, finishing T2 for the second straight week after doing it at the Farmers Insurance Open. He has four top-7s in five events in 2013-14 and stands 11th in the point standings.

Hunter Mahan

This was Mahan's first official event since last year's Tour Championship, and he showed zero rust, with three rounds in the 60s to finish T4. That bodes well for the weeks ahead.

Charles Howell III

Conversely, Howell has been playing often in 2013-14. This was already his ninth event, and he has five top 10s after his T6 in Phoenix. He climbed from 78th to 72nd in the working rankings, and the Augusta native is making a spirited effort to gain entry into the Masters.

Phil Mickelson

Sore back? No sore back? Who knows, but the three-time WMPO champion was never a factor in finishing T42. Mickelson tees it up this week at Pebble Beach, so we should get an immediate indication as to how he's feeling.

Brandt Snedeker

And what to make of another golfer coming off an injury? Snedeker's knee appeared to fully healed from his late-2013 Segway mishap after a 64 on Friday, but he played the weekend in 72-79, plummeting to T61, so he continues to bear watching.

Ian Poulter

Poulter played in San Diego for the first time since 2007 and in Phoenix for the first time since 2012, and he had little to show for it. He finished T47 at the Farmers Insurance Open and missed the cut at the WMPO. If it's not match play, who knows with Poulter?