Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
In victory or defeat, apparently it just can’t be easy for Andrew Landry at the American Express golf tournament.
Two years after dueling Jon Rahm down the stretch at the Stadium Course at PGA West and eventually falling in a four-hole playoff, Landry was cruising to a victory on the same course Sunday. But three stumbling bogeys in the middle of the back nine and a red-hot Abraham Ancer saw Landry’s six-shot lead disappear with two holes to play.
Somehow, Landry discovered his game again and hit a great tee shot on the par-3 17th to set up a go-ahead birdie. Another birdie on the 18th hole gave Landry a two-shot victory that seemed a foregone conclusion one hour earlier.
"It was a test, it was a big test because the tee shot there on 13, that's a tough tee shot," Landry said. "And 14 was kind of a hole where it was kind of an in between and I didn't really want to hit driver, but I was just trying to take the bunker out of play completely, and I wanted to have more of a full shot in there."
But at just the right time, Landry was able to make some of the biggest shots of his career to stop the bogey run and make the key birdies.
"I just kind of calmed myself down and said, hey, look, these are two holes that we can go out and get. They suit my game very well, especially 18," Landry said.
Landry finished the day with a 5-under 67 for a four-day total of 26-under 262. Ancer, six shots off the lead at the start of the round, tied the Stadium Course competitive scoring record with a 9-under 63, a round that looked like it might be good enough for a victory for the Mexican star.
Scottie Scheffler, an overnight co-leader with Landry, eagled the 16th hole to fight back from a disappointing front nine and finished alone in third at 23-under with a final-round 70.
As Landry and Abraham combined for 17 birdies on the day, some high-profile players struggled. Rickie Fowler, in the final group with Landry and Scheffler, managed just a 71 and finished at 18-under, tied for 10th. Tony Finau, the highest-ranked player in the field from the Official World Rankings, took a double bogey and a bogey on consecutive holes on the front nine. He finished at 69 for the day and 17-under for the week.
The victory is Landry’s second on the PGA Tour, the first since the 2018 Valero Texas Open. The performance in the Coachella Valley is in stark contrast to the rest of Landry's 2019-20 season, where he has missed seven cuts in eight starts, including missing the last five cuts in a row.
"It's crazy. This is the wildest game that you can play. That's why you just got to keep grinding it out," Landry said. "We all search for these weeks, and the majority of players out here are going to have them, four, five, six times a year and top-10 players are going to have them a little bit more often.
"So these are the weeks that we search for and we just continue to just play our ball and keep doing what we do, and hopefully they come sooner than later."
With three birdies to open the back nine, Landry moved to 27-under par and held a six-shot lead over Ancer. But a three-putt bogey at the 13th, a mistake from off the back of the green on the 14th hole with a putter and a stubbed chip on the 15th hole saw three shots shaved off Landry’s score.
At the same time, Ancer was making a birdie on the 14th and hitting the pin with an eagle chip on the par-5 16th. When Ancer rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the 17th, he shared the lead for the first time.
"On 17, right before I hit my tee shot, I realized I was tied. I thought I was going to be maybe two, three back, and then I looked up," said Ancer, who was one off on his calculations. "At the beginning of the round, I just said I just need to make as many birdies as I can and try and see what happens. So I wasn't paying much attention to the leader board.
"And then that's when I noticed and I was like, all right, well, we got to make two other birdies," Ancer added. "I made the putt there on 17, which was big, and then just couldn't make it happen on 18. But I played good, man. I'm proud of how I played."
As Ancer was making a routine par on the 18th, Landry steadied his game with his tee shot on the 17th, leaving him just seven feet for his go-ahead birdie. Another solid iron to just six feet on the 18th meant Landry had two putts for victory. He only needed one.
While Ancer lost by two shots, he was happy with the performance in search of his first PGA Tour title.
"It was good shooting a low round like that when I needed to, shoot a very low one to have a chance," said Ancer, who lives in McAllen, Texas. "And I knew that and I knew the shots I had to pull off and that just gives me a lot of confidence. Seeing the ball go in a lot, making a lot of birdies, obviously, moving forward definitely gives me confidence."
As for the drama of his two leader board performances at the American Express -- Landry missed the cut in the event last year -- Landry had a simple answer.
"It's hard to win out here.