Fowler takes playoff for first PGA Tour win

By Doug FergusonMay 7, 2012, 12:06 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rickie Fowler has never been afraid to put it all on the line.

The thrill-seeking passion for motocross as a teenager. The head-turning clothing he brought to the PGA Tour as a rookie, such as the bright orange ensemble from head-to-toe on Sundays. With a chance to finally break through for his first Tour win, the kid showed his true colors.

In a three-way playoff that featured U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, the 23-year-old Fowler gambled with a 51-degree wedge that had to be perfect on an 18th hole at Quail Hollow that had yielded only four birdies all day.

And it was.

Fowler stuffed his shot to 4 feet for a birdie on the first extra hole to beat McIlroy and D.A. Points and win the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday. It was his first Tour win in his 67th start as a pro, bringing him a small measure of relief and a big dose of credibility.

''I didn't want to play it safe,'' Fowler said. ''I had a good number (133 yards), and I was aiming right of the hole with the wind coming out of the right, and if I hit a perfect shot, it comes down right on the stick. ... I hit a perfect shot at the right time, and I was going for it.''

McIlroy, who returned to No. 1 in the world, used Quail Hollow as a launching pad toward stardom when he won here two years ago. Perhaps this is the start of a rivalry for years between a pair of 23-year-olds who bring power, flair and exuberance to the game.

''I'm looking forward to playing with Rory for a long time,'' said Fowler, who closed with a 3-under 69. ''It's awesome. It's a long wait but well worth it.''

McIlroy established himself on the same green two years ago, a 20-year-old who closed out a record 62 by making a 40-foot putt for his first Tour win and the biggest of his career, until adding a record-breaking U.S. Open title last summer at Congressional.

This time, it was Fowler's turn.

''You wouldn't call the 18th today a birdie hole with that pin,'' McIlroy said. ''For Rickie to go out and play that hole the way he did, he deserved to win.''

Along for the ride was Points, a 35-year-old who had the tournament in his grasp until ending 40 straight holes without a bogey by making one at the worst time. He had a one-shot lead going to the 18th in regulation, hit his approach in a bunker and never came close to a par. He shot a 71.

McIlroy had a shot at winning in regulation and missed a 15-foot birdie putt, giving him a 70.

In the playoff, all three hit the fairway, with McIlroy hitting a 3-wood that traveled nearly 340 yards. Points and McIlroy were well off the mark and had to work hard to get their two-putt pars. Fowler came up with the best shot of his career.

''The shot he hit was spectacular,'' Points said.

Even though they're the same age, McIlroy has a two-year head start on Fowler. They were in the Walker Cup together in 2007, and McIlroy turned pro that fall. Fowler didn't turn pro until two years ago. The only other time Fowler won as a pro was last year at the Korea Open, where he also beat McIlroy.

The difference was winning, and McIlroy still has a big edge.

As he entered the press conference, Fowler put his hat on backward, smiled and said, ''Told you it was coming.''

''It's a good feeling right now,'' Fowler said. ''Definitely some relief, satisfaction. I'm definitely happy. It's not a bad thing, winning. It's kind of fun.''

Fowler and McIlroy both recovered from late bogeys to get in the playoff.

Fowler had the outright lead until he went bunker-to-bunker on the 16th hole, the second time drawing a plugged lie, and missed a 10-foot par putt. He had a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole, though it never had a chance. He was the first one in at 14-under 274.

McIlroy went long of the green on the par-3 17th and missed an 8-foot par putt, but when Points struggled on the 18th, McIlroy had a putt for the win.

Webb Simpson, the 54-hole leader who lives a mile from Quail Hollow, made a mess of the eighth hole for a bogey and three-putted the 11th to fall back. Back-to-back birdies late in his round kept his hopes alive, and he had a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th to join the playoff. It missed, and he had a 73 to finish alone in fourth.

Ryan Moore, who played in the final group with Simpson, didn't make a birdie until the 15th hole and shot a 74. He tied for fifth with Lee Westwood (66) and Ben Curtis (67), who finished before the leaders got to the back nine.

For all his endorsements and marketing prowess, Fowler was starting to hear whispers about when he was going to win. What carried him along was patience and impeccable manners, which have made him a favorite among his peers.

Making this win even sweeter was having his mother, Lynn, and girlfriend Alexandra Brown (daughter of Tour winner Olin Browne) in the gallery.

''I'm over the top,'' his mother said, fighting back tears. ''I'm relieved for him because this is an expectation from the people, the fans, the tournament staff directors. And now he can hopefully carry on and do the work that he likes to do.''

On the back nine, it was clear this was a three-man race, and all had their shots at winning.

''I think it was just a matter of time before he won,'' McIlroy said. ''It seems like this tournament produces first-time winners - Anthony Kim, myself, now Rickie. It's great to see. He probably has went through a little bit of scrutiny and a lot of pressure trying to get that first win. But now that win is out of the way. Hopefully, that will ease the pressure a little bit.''

Fowler said he never felt the pressure of waiting 2 1/2 years for his first win. The longest wait might have been for his shot in the playoff to descend from the cloudy sky, so he could make sure it had enough to take the stream out of play.

''It was a little bit of a gamble,'' he said.

Fowler earned $1.17 million and best of all, achieved his primary goal of winning on Tour. That should help him reach his other marks this year, getting to the Tour Championship for the first time and perhaps getting another spot on the Ryder Cup team.

He was picked in 2010 - the first Tour rookie ever selected by a captain - and showed his promise by winning the last four holes to earn a halve in his singles match. McIlroy is far more accomplished, with a major championship and a return to No. 1 in the world.

But as a generational shift in golf continues, this could be a rivalry worth watching.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”