Vaughn Taylor gets first win in a decade when Phil Mickelson misses tying putt on 18 at Pebble Beach
There were dueling pictures of emotion in the final moments of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday.
With the waves crashing against the seawall behind him, Phil Mickelson stared vacantly into the crowd around the 18th green, masking with a small smile the unquestioned disappointment of a missed five-foot birdie putt that would have forced a playoff.
Obscured from most of the crowd, behind the grandstand, was Leot Taylor, the wife of tournament champion Vaughn Taylor, whose life changed dramatically when Mickelson’s ball hit the left edge of the cup and spun away.
Dressed in red on Valentine’s Day, Leot held her 2-year-old blond son, Locklyn, close to her face and sobbed uncontrollably. Locklyn, also in red, clutched a Mickey Mouse doll.
“There are so many ups and downs in this career,” Leot Taylor said after she’d wiped the tears from under her sunglasses. “And this goes to show that you don’t count anyone out. Everybody can win out here, and I’m happy my guy won this week.”
His redemption came in a drama of two acts.
In the field as the first alternate and trailing solo leader Mickelson by six shots at the outset Sunday, Taylor charged with four straight birdies at the 13th through 16th holes and shot seven-under-par 65 to get into the clubhouse with a 17-under total.
By then, Taylor, ranked 447th in the world, owned a two-shot lead, with little happening behind him — until Mickelson discovered the inspiration that had eluded him most of the day.
Trying to get his fifth Pebble Beach win to tie Mark O’Meara for the most ever, Mickelson drained a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th to get to within one. The five-time major winner hit a perfect drive on the ocean par-five 18th and an excellent approach put him only 58 feet short of the flagstick.
When Mickelson used a wedge to hit his ball five feet short of the flag, the large gallery cheered as if he’d hit it to tap-in range and was a cinch for extra holes.
But Mickelson already had looked shaky on some short putts, misfiring on four from eight to 10 feet, and he powered the birdie putt hard enough onto the edge of the hole for it to lip out. Mickelson’s even-par 72 made it a one-shot loss, denying him his first victory in 31 months.
“It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t make that one,” Mickelson said, “and when it didn’t go in I was a bit shocked,”
Mickelson, 45, made four bogeys in the round after he’d played Pebble Beach without a scorecard blemish on Saturday in shooting 66. He called in his swing instructor, Andrew Getson, from Scottsdale, Ariz., so they could do some early morning work on Sunday with his swing, but it didn’t come fully together for him.
“I played a little bit tighter through the round than I wanted to,” Mickelson said. “I was trying to free it up, but I didn’t salvage pars on some holes that I needed to.”
Whatever pressure Mickelson felt to win again probably did not compare to Taylor’s desperation.
The Augusta, Ga., resident played for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2006 but had gone 10 years and five months since winning the 2005 Reno-Tahoe Open. His career spiraled down, leaving him fighting for his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.
But even that led to heartbreak, with Taylor missing out late last season on conditional PGA Tour status and full-time Web.com work by one-tenth of a point.
“I didn’t get it done, and it was driving me crazy,” he said.
Taylor’s mishaps weren’t reserved for the course. In September 2014 he had a harrowing experience while fishing near home on the Savannah River. His small boat capsized in rough water and he recounted how he nearly drowned.
“A life-changer,” he said Sunday of the experience.
On Sunday, Leot Taylor was supposed to catch a 4:15 p.m. flight with her son out of Monterey to visit her brother in Arizona. She nearly left the grounds, but when her husband canned a 29-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole for his fourth straight birdie, something told her she should stick around.
Like her husband, she was thinking about a top-10 finish that would get him into the Northern Trust Open next week at Riviera, not the $1.26-million first prize.
“I wasn’t even thinking about winning,” admitted Taylor, who turns 40 next month. “It wasn’t even a thought, really. It was just magical out there. I could just feel it. I had to keep my emotions under check, and I kept just trying to stay calm, and I can’t believe it happened.”
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