Fairytale finish for Vaughn Taylor
February 16, 2016>
The celebrity portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was supposed to end on Saturday. And then came a script right out of Hollywood, starring Vaughn Taylor as himself.
His victory over Phil Mickelson - also playing himself in this drama by the sea - sounds like pure fiction.
Taylor is a 39-year-old who had gone just more than 10 years since his last victory and had not held a full PGA Tour card for the last three years. He once played in a Ryder Cup. Now he was trying to find his way back on the Web.com Tour, which included trips to Panama and Colombia the last two weeks, where he packed a golf bag with a kickstand because it was lighter and would spare him excess baggage fees.
Yes, that's life in the other world of golf.
Taylor was so sick last week in Colombia from something he ate that he was throwing up in his hotel room, praying for it to stop. He withdrew the next day and flew to Pebble Beach - it was cheaper than going home to Augusta, Georgia - to see if he could get in the tournament as an alternate.
He did. And he played well. Starting the final round, he was six shots behind Mickelson and hopeful of a top 10 so he could get into the next PGA Tour event in Los Angeles without having to rush down there and try to qualify Monday.
''Just wanted a place to play,'' Taylor said.
If all that makes it hard to believe, consider the finish.
He ran off four straight birdies starting on the 13th hole, the last one a 30-foot putt on the tough 16th green that sent Taylor running around the green and high-fiving whoever was in his way. It was the first time he had the lead.
Taylor closed with a 7-under 65 after missing birdie chances of 12 feet and 10 feet on the final two holes. He had a feeling it would cost him, especially when Mickelson birdied the 17th with a clutch putt and was just short of the green on the par-5 18th in two, 60 feet from the hole.
He chipped to 5 feet and needed that birdie putt to force a playoff.
Taylor was standing behind the 18th green next to the ocean, a peaceful setting until one's career was on the line. He was listening for the cheers of Mickelson's birdie. He was expecting the cheers. Instead, he heard groans when Mickelson's short putt spun out on the left edge of the cup.
There's your winner. Go figure.
''Just absolutely amazing,'' Taylor said of his one-shot victory over Mickelson, a five-time major champion already in the World Golf Hall of Fame. ''Didn't know if it would ever happen again, to be honest. And I can't believe it actually happened today.''
It was a sad ending for Mickelson, the 45-year-old who was poised to tie the record with his fifth victory at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and his first victory since he won the British Open at Muirfield in 2013.
But he let his two-shot lead get away after only five holes, and it might have gotten out of hand if Mickelson had not made tough par saves in the 8-foot range on No. 3 and No. 9. Mickelson was on the verge of losing all hope until he made a 10-foot par save on the 16th hole to stay two shots behind, made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to pull within one shot and then looked like a shoo-in to birdie the final hole.
But he missed and shot 72.
''It never crossed my mind that I wouldn't make that one,'' Mickelson said.
He wasn't alone.
''I was trying to mentally prepare myself to go to a playoff,'' Taylor said. ''And I was just like, 'There's no way he just missed that putt.' His short game is ridiculous. Just very fortunate for him to not make that putt.''
Mickelson ends the West Coast portion of his schedule by finishing four shots behind in Palm Springs (tie for third) and six shots behind in Phoenix (tie for 11th). He was hitting the ball great most of the week. His putting was superb, and it wasn't awful on Sunday except that he put too much stress on his putter with too many par putts.
So there was disappointment, and some measure of encouragement.
''It's certainly disappointing, but it makes me more determined to get back to work and get this thing right,'' he said. ''I know that I'm close to being where I want to be. But if I was there, I would have been able to finish it off.''
As for Taylor, the good life awaits.
The victory sends him to the Masters for the first time since 2008, and while it's a big deal for any golfer, it's even better for residents of Augusta.
''Playing in the Masters is my Super Bowl,'' Taylor said.