Fowler again in the spotlight at The Players

By Jason SobelMay 13, 2012, 12:24 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rickie Fowler had just finished playing 18 holes at last year’s Memorial Tournament in brutally hot, humid conditions. He trudged off the final green suffering from heat exhaustion, then promptly signed his scorecard, grabbed a cold bottle of water and pulled up a chair. He then signed autographs for every orange-clad, flat-billed fan in attendance – and yes, there were plenty of ‘em.

This was hardly an isolated incident. With a public image that had long exceeded his results table, Fowler has been the subject of adoring fans and additional attention ever since turning professional three years ago at the age of 20.

Moral of the story: The transition from up-and-comer with potential to PGA Tour champion may have been smoother for Fowler than any other young winner of recent vintage, considering he was already equipped to deal with the responsibilities that most players with greater degrees of success handle on a daily basis.

Those needing proof of that theory need only check the Players Championship leaderboard, as Fowler has followed his initial victory at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship by once again climbing into contention.

In breezy conditions at TPC-Sawgrass on Saturday, the 23-year-old posted a 6-under 66 that left him in third place entering the final round, just three shots behind leader Kevin Na.

“Had some fun out there today,” Fowler said afterward. “I mean, other than bogeying the last, I'd have to say it was a fairly perfect round.”

Perhaps the biggest question about his second consecutive title contention is whether it happened because of last week’s win or in spite of it.

To his credit, Fowler took certain precautions prior to The Players in order to ensure he would be fresh for this week’s tournament.

“I took Monday off kind of to recharge and slept in a bit,” he intimated. “I only played five holes Tuesday, played the back nine on Wednesday, and got some time in the gym and made sure that physically and mentally I was ready to go for the week. I had seen the course a handful of times, so we knew where to hit it and what we were going to try to do. It was more making sure I was going to be ready to play golf and mentally and physically ready to go on Thursday.”

Throughout the past year, Fowler has been quick to acknowledge that much about his look – from the brightly colored wardrobe to the sporadically filled mustache – is about proving to people that he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks and he enjoys separating himself from the masses.

It’s that “me against the world” mentality that he carried into the victory and one which he still holds in regard to this event, even with his lofty leaderboard status.

“Having won last week, there's not many people that have gone and won, and then won the next week,” he explained. “So I feel like I'm in kind of an underdog position. Maybe overlooked at the start of the week … maybe a little tired.”

Tired? If anything, Fowler appears to be gaining momentum as the week progresses. He opened with 72, followed with a second-round 69 and then posted a 66 on the proverbial Moving Day that included seven birdies.

“It's not that I'm swinging it any better or anything like that,” he said. “I'm definitely confident that I've played really well the last two weeks prior to this. Finally get a few putts to drop. It's more just things are clicking. Everything is kind of coming together.”

Fowler is now trying to become the first player to win PGA Tour events on back-to-back weeks since Tiger Woods in 2009.

That’s hardly an easy proposition – just ask a guy who has only accomplished the feat twice in a Hall of Fame career.

“It's just tough to win any time, but back-to-back weeks is difficult because usually you have different conditions,” Phil Mickelson explained. “It can be mentally, physically draining to stay focused for 72 holes at the highest level and can be sometimes difficult to get up the following week.”

Fowler will attempt to overcome that mental and physical drain on Sunday, playing in the penultimate pairing. Asked whether he’ll be able to slide under the radar, he smiled and claimed, “No, I'll be dressed pretty bright, so you'll be able to see me.”

The truth is, Fowler has never been under the radar. Which perfectly explains why he’s dealt with recent success so well thus far.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x