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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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.