DUBLIN, Ohio – Rickie Fowler, the new kid in golf, gave himself a chance Friday to be the next kid to win on the PGA Tour.
The 21-year-old Fowler ran off three straight birdies late in his round for a 6-under 66 to tie the 36-hole record at the Memorial Tournament and take a three-shot lead over Justin Rose into the weekend at soggy Muirfield Village.
Fowler was at 13-under 131. That tied the tournament record set by Scott Hoch in 1987.
Youth has been all the rage on the PGA Tour over the last month, with Rory McIlroy winning at Quail Hollow two days before his 21st birthday, and Jason Day winning the Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago at age 22.
They both turned pro three years ago. Fowler didn’t turn pro until last summer, yet he already has lost in a playoff last fall and finished one shot behind in the Phoenix Open in February.
“Just being in contention the few times I have over the last eight months, this is by far the best I’ve felt,” Fowler said.
Defending champion Tiger Woods is starting to feel a little better, too.
Woods was just inside the projected cut line when he started, and with his lackluster play on a course that can penalize errant shots, there was some question whether he would be around for all four rounds in his final event before the U.S. Open.
Those questions didn’t last long. He birdied three of the opening five holes, then ran off three straight birdies on his front nine to offset the few mistakes for a 69. He was at 3-under 141, 10 shots behind, but still playing.
“I hit more good shots today than I did yesterday, and really putted well,” Woods said.
Phil Mickelson, who has another chance to become No. 1 with a victory, was headed in that direction with a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch on the front nine, only to give it back by missing one par putt after another on the back nine. He closed with two straight birdies for a wild round of 71 that put him at 6-under 138, still in the game but seven shots behind.
“It’s frustrating for me because I played very well and didn’t shoo t the number I thought I should,” Mickelson said.
Jim Furyk missed a short birdie putt on the final hole and had to settle for a 67, leaving him in the group at 9-under 135 that included Tim Petrovic, who earlier in the day matched Fowler’s 66.
The second round was stopped twice by storms and rain for a total of one hour. Because of more bad weather in the forecast, the players will go off Saturday morning in threesomes from both tees.
No matter when or where they start, all of them will be trying to catch a California kid with a passion for dirt bikes and fashion, who has an edge that carries over to the way he plays the game – fast and fearless.
It’s the largest 36-hole lead on the course Jack Nicklaus built since Kenny Perry led by three in 1991.
“He’ll dictate the rest of the tournament, or at least for tomorrow,” Furyk said. “If he goes out and plays well, it will be tough to catch him. If he goes out and shoots another 6 or 7 under, he’s going to have a huge lead. If he doesn’t he’ll let some other guys back in the tournament.”
Day had a 69 and was at 8-under 136, along with Spencer Levin, who had a 68. British Open champion Stewart Cink, getting closer each week to where he wants to be with his game, turned in a 67 and was at 7-under 137.
Fowler was guaranteed four rounds in the Columbus area when he arrived. No matter what happens this week, he has to go through 36 holes of U.S. Open qualifying on Monday, having to failed to crack the top 50 in the world ranking last month.
That he even had a chance to move into the top 50 at such a young age speaks to his potential.
“We all know he’s got the talent to do it,” Woods said. “It’s just a matter of him doing it.”
Fowler doesn’t need to be convinced of that. Golf is golf, whether it’s against juniors or college players or the best in the world. When he plays, he expects to win.
He played bogey-free-, with just enough moments to build his lead. He rolled in a 35-foot eagle putt on the 15th, then holed a pair of 15-foot putts during his string of three birdies through the eighth hole that gave him some separation.
“I just feel really comfortable getting out and seeing my name on the top of the leaderboard,” Fowler said. “It’s not making me feel much nerves at all. Almost out there trying to put as much space as I could between me and Petrovic.”
Rose was among the co-leaders after the first round with Fowler and Geoff Ogilvy, who tumbled to a 77. He finished off his round with a 7-iron that caught the backstop on the 18th green and rolled to easy birdie range, putting him in the final group with a kid.
Rose, who tied for fourth in the 1998 British Open when he was 17, knows what it’s like to be young and carefree.
“I know he’s a cool guy,” Rose said of Fowler. “I’ve seen the way he plays – pretty fearless. Going to enjoy it.”