Kevin Stadler breaks through in Phoenix

Some guys are just easy to relate with. Kevin Stadler and his shaky putter fit that bill for me.

Overweight – check. Swings for the hills – check. Putts like he’s using a spaghetti noodle for a shaft – check.

Kevin Stadler, WM Open Winner

Kevin Stadler, WM Open Winner

But at the end of the day at the TPC of Scottsdale, Stadler was the lone man standing. His score of 268 (-16) defeated lefty Bubba Watson and Canadian Graham DeLaet by a shot in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

It was that Stadler lit up the course though. The tournament looked like Watson’s to lose, and that’s exactly what he did. Bogeys on 16 and 18 doomed the former Masters winner. The former hole saw him put his ball in the front bunker; the latter resulted from a drive in the right rough followed by an airmailed approach. He nearly got up-and-down on 18 to force the playoff, but his 6 foot putt turned left away from the hole leaving the trophy to Stadler.

Of course, anyone who has followed golf knows the Stadler name. His father Craig is a legend of the sport. “The Walrus” won a Masters title in the early 80’s, and has always been a guy the average fan could love. His son, after 12 years as a professional, now has his first victory at 33.

But Kevin’s short game is an issue, and it’s tough to see him breaking out and winning multiple titles unless he gets his putting down.

As for Watson, much has been made about his winless drought since Augusta two years ago. He played well for three days in Arizona, and was in position if not for some misguided shots. Watson even found water on the par-5 15th, a reachable long hole. Bubba has a style that is fun to watch, but hasn’t been consistent enough to find the winner’s circle.

Stadler had his share of trouble as well. He found water with his 2nd shot on the 15th, and also incurred a penalty stroke on the 11th in picking up a double bogey. The big guy had taken the lead at that point, but his tee shot went right and impelled itself on cactus needles. Stadler left the ball hanging above the sand as an enduring part of the plant, choosing to take his medicine and drop.

Stadler’s result gives us a treat come April – he will join his father in the Masters field, the first time a father and son will have played in the same Masters tournament. Here’s hoping that Craig tees off after Kevin, so that he can cherish the sight of his son teeing off in the ultimate test.

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