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Four-Ball: Matsuyama closer, but not at elite level just yet

Rickie Fowler led by 2 shots with two holes to play Sunday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and lost. Hideki Matsuyama, however, played 22 holes of flawless golf in the final round and didn't drop a single shot to par.

So is it a case of Matsuyama winning and Fowler losing, or vice versa? And where does the 23-year-old Matsuyama stand in regard to the generation of up-and-coming golfing stars?

Our scribes weigh in on those topics and more in this week's edition of Monday Four-Ball.

1. Did Hideki Matsuyama win the Waste Management Phoenix Open or did Rickie Fowler lose it?

SportsCenter anchor Matt Barrie: Rickie Fowler lost it. Sitting on a 2-shot lead headed to the drivable par-4 17th, Fowler needed a 3-metal to get a par at worst and keep the 2-shot lead headed to the 18th. Driver was too aggressive.

SportsCenter anchor Jonathan Coachman: Rickie Fowler shot a final-round 67. He hit two bad shots, both on the 17th. When you go four playoff holes deep and both golfers make putt after putt to extend the match, sometimes you have to simply shake his hand. Matsuyama never missed a shot after 17 in regulation. He was terrific, and that was golf at his highest level. Never easy to lose, but I think Fowler will take that one a little bit better than most.

ESPN.com senior golf analyst Michael Collins: I think Fowler's reaction at the news conference says it all. He lost. In a sudden-death playoff, it only takes one bad shot or one miracle shot. In this case, Fowler hit the bad shot.

ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig: Matsuyama made a great birdie putt on the 18th to ultimately force a playoff, but Fowler lost the tournament at the 17th hole -- twice. That's a birdie hole and he twice found the water off the tee, including in regulation when he had a 2-stroke lead. A par there probably wins it in regulation. Then he did the same thing in the playoff and ended the week with three bogeys on the hole.

ESPN.com senior golf writer Jason Sobel: I've always hated the idea that players lose tourneys rather than others winning them. Fowler birdied the final hole of regulation and played the first three playoff holes in 1-under. He lost, but only because Matsuyama played better. No shame in that. But don't hang this on Fowler like he choked it away. That's simply untrue.

2. Where does Matsuyama fit within the young generation of stars?

Barrie: He's still on the outside looking in. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day all have majors. Fowler has significant wins. Matsuyama has major championship skill, and will eventually find his way into the conversation.

Coachman: It's tough to sometimes remember that the Asian stars are right up there because they are not in this country all the time. Right now I would put Matsuyama in that next group below the big four of Spieth, McIlroy, Day and Fowler. Matsuyama needs to be more consistent and just win more for me to put him up there. He's got no majors, and until Sunday, no real toe-to-toe battles. This is a great win for him, but I wonder how many people saw it since it happened after the Super Bowl started.

Collins: On the fringe. He's no Dustin Johnson or Patrick Reed. I'd probably even take Justin Thomas over him with one less win right now.

Harig: Given his age, he's right there, even though he has just two PGA Tour victories. Matsuyama has been viewed as a potential star for some time, but he's held back by the language barrier that makes it more difficult for him in the United States. But he contends often and perhaps this win leads to more.

Sobel: He's two weeks away from his 24th birthday and already has two PGA Tour wins and top-20 finishes at each of the four majors. He'll need to win one before he breaks into the conversation among McIlroy, Spieth and Day -- and to an extent, Fowler -- but there's plenty of time. If he keeps putting as he did down the stretch Sunday, he'll win some more very soon.

3. Thumbs up or thumbs down to drivable par-4s like the 17th at TPC Scottsdale?

Barrie: Thumbs up. This is a true test of head vs. ego vs. skill vs. guts. There are so many decisions to make if you're a player in a championship situation. If you're behind, you can eagle. If you're ahead like Fowler was, you have to think. More courses should have these.

Coachman: Thumbs up. How can you not love it? But the design is what makes that hole. A chance for a player to go over and into the water? Or pull it a little bit and go into the water? That ends up being what cost Fowler the entire tournament. It's called risk-reward for a reason. If I was his caddie, though, I might be second-guessing myself in regulation to not hit the 3-wood. But like he said, "Go with your go-to shot." It just happened to go 360 yards.

Collins: Jack Nicklaus called the 10th hole at Riviera the greatest short par-4 in golf. Anyone giving Nicklaus a thumbs down?!

Harig: Thumbs up. Every course should have at least one like it, and if there are two -- one on each side -- even better. It gives the set-up folks some more options. As we saw again on Sunday, such holes create drama and are not automatically easy. They force players to make decisions and the risk-reward nature often produces drama.

Sobel: Thumbs up, of course. That's an easy one. Mike Davis and the USGA often get criticized for their course setups, but I love the idea of par-3.5s and par-4.5s. I don't care what they're called on the scorecard; these holes make players think and make them be aggressive when they'd otherwise play conservatively.

4. What's your favorite thing about this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am?

Barrie: It's truly a tournament where casual fans of golf can relate because of the celebrities and other athletes who play. Someone who doesn't follow the sport might watch because they love Bill Murray. More eyeballs are always a good thing for golf.

Coachman: I personally am not a big fan of this tournament because amateur players make it take soooooo long. However, if I was to pick one thing, it would probably be seeing my favorite entertainers and athletes look normal and average. I also love the sick views that make me wish I was on the course for four days. It's incredible and it still amazes me that that course remains an iconic place in golf.

Collins: For me the best part was always after the rounds. Hanging out at the Tap Room or Spanish Bay having drinks, talking with friends about their rounds and the pros they're paired with during the tournament.

Harig: Well, it's certainly not celebrities and corporate bigwigs playing golf. Watching that gets old in a hurry. It's the views at Pebble Beach. There is probably not a course in U.S. tournament golf that offers ones as beautiful. And for those dealing with winter, it is even better.

Sobel: I'll preface my answer with this: I'm not a golf course architecture geek. There are a lot of people who know way more about that business than me. But I do know what I like. Rather than courses built on a generic plot of land, I'm a huge fan of courses that use the landscape and topography to shape the holes. That's exactly what Pebble Beach does. It's pretty and scenic, sure. But it's also a work of art. Golf art.