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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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”