Fowler downplays 65: 'It's just the first round'

By Rex HoggardJune 15, 2017, 8:41 pm

ERIN, Wis. – There’s something to be said for not poking the bear, and Rickie Fowler has played enough U.S. Opens to know he shouldn’t combine good fortune with gloating.

You go 'round a U.S. Open venue without making a bogey, well, that’s grit and a game that may well be ready for Sunday pressure. You add seven birdies to that card and savor your “stress-free” day, man, that’s tempting fate.

But before USGA chief Mike Davis convenes a task force to put the bite back into Erin Hills, Fowler did his very best to walk back his record round.

“It’s cool,” he said of his opening 65 that tied the lowest first-round card in relation to par at golf’s toughest test. “But it's just the first round. It’s always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf. But I'd rather be remembered for something that's done on Sunday.”

On Thursday, the great unknown that was Erin Hills turned out to be a gettable golf course, at least for those in the early wave who enjoyed calm winds from the preferred direction, putting surfaces softened to an emerald green by overnight rains and some user-friendly hole locations.

The USGA, however, has never been fans of too much of a good thing, and players were more than willing to play both sides of the fence.

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“This feels like a Tour event right now,” Brandt Snedeker reasoned. “But it will change by Sunday. I’d be shocked if 7 under wins.”

Call it political correctness, call it self-preservation, it’s always best not to give Davis and his crew a reason to start experimenting with some of those 8,000-plus-yard tees in an effort to stem that scoring tide.

Besides, if Fowler’s performance on Day 1 has the USGA’s best and brightest concerned that their new toy wasn’t up to championship quality, know that the 28-year-old played the opening frame like a guy who was made to win the U.S. Open.

He connected on 12 of 14 drives, 15 of 18 approach shots and was third in the field in strokes gained putting. Even as the winds freshened late in his round, he showed impressive poise with birdies at all the right places – all four par 5s – and sidestepping any potential disaster.

“I feel like I have great control of the ball right now and distance control, which is big on a lot of little sections out here going into greens, especially with the wind picking up,” Fowler said.

If it’s a major and Fowler has made his way into contention the narrative is as predictable as a Wisconsin summer. All the talent, all the potential, all the flash has made the American a regular conversation piece when the golf world gathers for a major.

Will he win a major? Is he the best player without a major?

The latter has become something of a backhanded compliment in recent years, a yoke worn by many from Sergio Garcia, who joined the major club in April at Augusta National, to Lee Westwood; but for American fans Fowler has emerged as a consensus pick.

That take reached a crescendo in 2014 when he finished inside the top five at all four Grand Slam stops, and even though he’s failed to finish in the top 10 at a major since, he’s remained part of the conversation, and that’s fine with Fowler.

“I take it as a compliment,” he said when asked the inevitable. “There are a lot of really good players out here that haven't won a major. So it would be nice to get rid of that at some point. I'm not saying that this is the week or isn't the week. But I like the way this golf course suits me, and we're off to a good start.”

There is no doubt the heightened expectations are justified. Although he’d missed two of his last four weekends heading into the year’s second Grand Shindig, he finished runner-up two weeks ago at the Memorial and has excelled this year at some crucial U.S. Open requirements – most notably ball-striking (he’s second on Tour in strokes gained total and seventh in strokes gained putting).

He’s also worked to become more comfortable traversing the game’s most scrutinized punchbowls. He and caddie Joe Skovron worked hard coming up with a game plan for this week’s championship and even in changing conditions on Thursday he didn’t waver.

He’s relaxed, rooming this week with his #SB2K17 running mate Justin Thomas at a nearby house, and most importantly he’s become adept at ignoring those external expectations.

On four occasions on Thursday, Fowler added the caveat that “there’s still a lot of golf to play,” or something similar. He’s all too aware of the inherent pitfalls of winning major championships, even with the cushion of a 7-under 65 on Day 1. Cautious optimism is probably the best way to describe Fowler, which is understandable considering that in his last five rounds at the U.S. Open before Thursday he was 27 over par.

In short, he knows as well as anyone that the USGA gives and the USGA takes with equal abandon.

This week feels different, thanks in large part to a putter that converted five birdie attempts from outside 7 feet, and while he was quick to keep his start in perspective, he didn’t leave any room for ambiguity when asked if he was ready to win that elusive first major.

“Yeah, I'm ready to be out there,” he said. “Having a win this year at the Honda [Classic], being in contention at majors in the past, and having The Players win has definitely done a lot for me. So, yeah, it's going to be a fun week. I like the way this course suits my game.”

If that doesn’t exactly sound like a man poised for his Grand Slam breakthrough, Fowler could be forgiven for taking a measured approach. The USGA is watching, after all.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.