Victorious Fowler thrives on pressure, big moments

By Randall MellSeptember 8, 2015, 12:45 am

NORTON, Mass. – Rickie Fowler is getting a little weary of all these shadows falling over him.

First there was Rory McIlroy’s with his emergence as the world No. 1 a few years back.

Then Jordan Spieth’s with his major championship run this summer.

And then Jason Day’s this last month or so with his red-hot run.

While not getting himself in the conversation with this trio of young stars in the major championships this summer wasn’t as motivating as being labeled “overrated” in a poll before he won The Players Championship, Fowler is definitely finding fire in his belly again. He said on the eve of the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship that he is driven to join McIlroy, Spieth and Day as the game’s elite new guard.

Fowler, 26, showed Monday he meant it beating Henrik Stenson in a final-round duel at TPC Boston.

“With the three guys that they talk about, Jason, Rory and Jordan, they've clearly played the best out of anyone over the past few months to couple of years,” Fowler said. “So I'm trying to be a small fourth thrown in there. But there are a lot of other really good young players playing well right now, as well.”

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Three shots behind Stenson with eight holes to play, Fowler found another gear Monday, the extra gear that helped him win The Players. He showed something overtaking Stenson, a ball-striking machine. Fowler thrived with nerves and pressure building over the back nine. He was bogey free on that back side, watching Stenson make the mistakes that lost the tournament.

Fowler’s 3-under-par 68 gave him a one-shot victory over Stenson for Fowler’s third worldwide victory this year.

While Fowler didn’t break through to win his first major this summer, he has claimed some big prizes against some stellar fields. He won that Players Championship spectacularly in the spring. He won the Scottish Open with a good field prepping for the British Open. Now, he has added a FedEx Cup Playoff title.

Joe Skovron, Fowler’s caddie, said the spectacular way Fowler won The Players resonates.

Fowler played the final 10 holes at TPC Sawgrass in 8 under par. That includes the playoff there. He beat a terrific field on a demanding course with intense final-round pressure.

“I think it frees you up,” Skovron said in the shadow of the TPC Boston clubhouse after Monday’s trophy presentation. “The more you win, the more it frees you up, especially a guy like Rickie, with all the outside pressure. He doesn’t talk about it a lot, but people have been expecting him to do so much, so quick, because of his popularity and everything else. So that kind of freed him up.

“You trust more and more.”

It’s helping Fowler trust he can handle the pressure and the nerves that come with the big moments.

Earlier this week, Davis Love III talked about how Fowler seems built for big moments. Yes, Fowler hasn’t won a major yet, but Love believes Fowler has something that’s going to help him close them out. He’s got the ability to relish all the adrenaline that comes doing so.

Love says that probably goes back to Fowler’s daredevil days in motocross.

“He’s not afraid of that,” Love said. “He relishes that.

“Some guys get tight and timid, but Rickie likes that adrenalin feeling. I think Rickie is one of those guys, if you get him in the hunt, he’s going to do really well. It’s just Thursday morning is boring for him. When Rickie gets focused, he’s really, really good.”

Like Day, Fowler has required extra time harnessing his special skill set. Being a daredevil who loves adrenalin rushes doesn’t automatically translate into closing out tournaments. There’s still a learning curve. It didn’t help Fowler in his failure chasing Tiger Woods in the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill two years ago, when Fowler melted in the moment there, hitting two shots in the water at the 16th and making triple bogey. It didn’t help him in the final round against Woods at the Memorial three years ago, when he shot 84.

Those failures were likely factors in Fowler being voted “overrated” in a media poll of his peers.

With Butch Harmon helping him with his swing, Fowler’s beginning to put together a game now that’s better built for closing out. You don’t revel making dangerous motocross runs until you’ve mastered the bike.

“He sharpens up,” Skovron said of pressure-packed moments. “Some guys, it bothers them.

“We just hadn’t been in those moments a lot. It was always four and five shots back. Now, he’s getting himself in there more. He’s handling it very well.”

Fowler’s learning to handle the big moments in a way that’s going to help him cast his own big shadow.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

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It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.