Fowler bolsters profile with signature win at Players

By John FeinsteinMay 12, 2015, 3:15 pm

There will be a lot said and written in the coming weeks about what Rickie Fowler “proved” by winning The Players Championship on Sunday in dramatic fashion.

There will be talk about how he proved those players who anonymously labeled him as one of the two most overrated players in golf (Ian Poulter being the other) were wrong. There will be those who will say he’s now re-established himself as one of the game’s young guns and as one of the top 10 players in the world – his Official World Golf Ranking of No. 9 backing that up.

The most important thing Fowler proved is something he proved more than 18 months ago: He doesn’t want to go down as golf’s version of Anna Kournikova. You remember Kournikova: She was the first of the stunning blonde Russian tennis players who was good enough to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1997 and was briefly ranked in the top 10.

But, Kournikova turned out to be a jock version of Narcissus – the famous prince who fell so in love with his reflection that the gods turned him into a flower. Instead of turning Kournikova into a flower, the tennis gods turned her into a hacker. She never won an individual title.

Even so, Kournikova was the most popular female tennis player in the world for years and made millions off the court through sponsorships and modeling.

Once upon a time, it appeared that Fowler could become golf’s answer to Kournikova. He had teeny-bopper good looks and a unique fashion style that quickly made him wealthy, long before he won on the PGA Tour. Of course he also had plenty of game and there were flashes – just as with Kournikova’s Wimbledon run – that proved it.

In 2010, Cory Pavin made him a surprise Ryder Cup captain’s pick, and then Fowler rallied from 4 down in his singles match by birdieing the last four holes to steal a half-point from Edoardo Molinari.



He finally broke through on the PGA Tour in dramatic fashion when he beat Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff at Quail Hollow in 2012, flagging his second shot to the difficult par-4 18th to set up a winning birdie.

Fowler was only 23 at the time and it seemed likely that the win – especially that kind of win – would be a springboard for him.

But even though there were solid performances over the next 18 months, there was nothing that lived up to that win or the hype, the commercials, the screaming girls and becoming a one-name player – “Rickie!” – without the portfolio that usually accompanies that title.

By the end of 2013, after Fowler had failed to win again or contend in any of that year’s majors, there were those who thought Fowler might be an image-is-everything athlete. It would have been easy for Fowler to accept that fate: He had made millions and was playing well enough that he could continue to make more than enough money as a reasonably good golfer for years to come.

Fowler didn’t want that. He decided it was time to buckle down and be a golfer first and a corporate salesman later. He hired Butch Harmon as his teacher and listened to what Harmon was telling him about his swing, about his work ethic and about his ability to compete under pressure.

He also cut his hair and got rid of the long-billed cap that had become his signature.

RickieFowlergolf.com became secondary to Rickie Fowler the golfer.

The new teacher and new approach paid off in 2014 – not with a victory but with remarkably consistent play in the majors – becoming the third player in history (the other two are named Woods and Nicklaus) to finish in the top five in all four majors in the same year.

He chased McIlroy down the stretch in Liverpool at the British Open and was right in the middle of the after-dusk finish at the PGA Championship in Louisville.

At 25, he had shown the world that there was substance behind the marketing campaign. The question, as 2015 dawned, was whether he was ready to take the next step.

He hasn’t yet – he still needs a major title to put himself into golf’s pantheon – but the way he won The Players is about as close as you can get. It was certainly memorable. The way he played the last six holes (four birdies and an eagle) was remarkable enough. But beating Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia in the playoff by twice making birdie at No. 17 was the sort of under-pressure playing that will be talked about for years.

More important than that, it is a memory that Fowler can summon the next time he’s in position to win a major, which may come very soon.

Fowler insisted after his win that he had “laughed” about the player poll that ranked he and Poulter as the two most overrated players in the game. Fowler said on Friday that he was “happy” about the poll because it motivated him.

Clearly, that was true. The argument can be made that no one should take an anonymous poll of any kind seriously. It’s very easy to take shots at people when you don’t have to stand behind what you’re saying. It’s to Fowler’s credit that he used the poll, however specious it might have been, to set up the best weekend of his career.

It’s worth remembering that golfers peak at different times. Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth were 21 when they won their first majors; Jack Nicklaus and McIlroy were 22. Arnold Palmer was 28; Phil Mickelson was 33 and Ben Hogan was 34. At 26, Fowler still has plenty of time to win that first major and then win some more.

Golf could be entering an era that will be quite different than the Woods era. Woods was a dynasty, the favorite every time he teed it up for most of 12 years. With McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler and Jason Day all ranked in the top 10 well before turning 30, and with Woods and Mickelson still around hoping for one last great moment, there is no telling what the next few years will bring.

Chances are, a lot of it will be spectacular. Fowler was certainly that on Sunday.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.