Fowler's Abu Dhabi win furthers 'Big 4' narrative

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2016, 3:35 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Against a field that included world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and No. 3 Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler took his game on the road to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and did what - until just last year - seemed exceedingly difficult for the PGA Tour’s millennial poster child.

With arguably the year’s deepest field assembled - apologies to the members-only gathering earlier this month in Kapalua - Fowler forced his way up the leaderboard with a third-round 65 and refused to yield on a marathon Sunday thanks to a combination of pinpoint drives, clutch putts and timely short-game dramatics.

It was, to put the performance in context, very much Spieth-like. Or maybe it was more of a McIlroy-esque effort. Either way, consider Fowler’s one-stroke victory, his fourth worldwide triumph since last year’s Players Championship, a conversation starter.

“From The Players on, just being in the situation, contention, Sunday, final round, against the best players in the world and just really believing and having the confidence that, hey, if I go hit the shots, I'm winning, no question,” said Fowler, who played his final two rounds (65-69) in 10 under par.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

While debate over the exact members of golf’s new “Big 3,” or whether such delineations are even possible given the depth atop golf’s pyramid of influence these days, has escalated in recent months, the last three weeks have certainly framed a familiar narrative.

Spieth set the tone with his eight-stroke romp at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to start the year and Fowler’s victory against an equally strong field (both events awarded 52 World Rankings points to the champion) expanded the dialogue.

Fowler’s victory moved the trendy American to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking, a career high for the 27-year-old and within mathematical striking distance of McIlroy in third place.

It also gives the trio of titans three wins in the last four official events on either the PGA Tour or European Tour, dating back to McIlroy’s victory in November at the DP World Tour Championship.

Not that it was entirely stress-free for Fowler, who went from desert-to-desert (the actual variety, not a bunker) on his way to a double-bogey 5 at the seventh hole on Sunday. Clinging to a one-stroke lead over Alejandro Canizares, Fowler responded by holing a 40-yard shot from a more familiar kind of sand (greenside bunker) at the eighth for eagle and a 3-up advantage.

“To me the key was the swing he made off of the tee at [No. 8], he moved on and made a good swing and gave us a chance to get home. The bunker shot was great, but the tee shot was where he didn’t let the tournament go the other way,” said Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron.

Fowler secured the game’s most menacing trophy when he chipped in for birdie from just off the green at the 17th hole moments after McIlroy had eagled the 18th hole to join Henrik Stenson in the clubhouse at 14 under.

It was a familiar scene for McIlroy, a four-time runner-up at the Abu Dhabi stop, as he played his last three holes in 3 under after a sluggish start to his final round that included three bogeys.

“I didn't hit a fairway until the ninth hole. Wasn't giving myself many chances, just to be 1 over par after nine there was a pretty good effort,” McIlroy said. “There was a couple long putts, a chip, an eagle at the last that got me a little closer to the lead, but as I said, I left myself just a bit too much to do after that front nine.”

The consolation prize for McIlroy, if he had any interest in such things, was that he clipped Spieth for “B” flight honors.

Although Spieth rallied after a sloppy second round (73), playing his final 36 holes in 8 under par, he never was in serious contention after Thursday and tied for fifth place at 11 under, a stroke behind McIlroy.

“We were off this week. I didn't make anything. I didn't quite give myself a lot of chances the first couple rounds,” said Spieth, who admitted to being fatigued after a whirlwind journey that’s included tournaments in six different countries the last two months.

Spieth’s relatively pedestrian start to the week aside, it bodes well for the game that Sunday’s final tally read like a who’s who in golf at the moment and served as yet another testament to the parity that’s currently driving the game.

Fowler’s work with swing coach Butch Harmon has made him more consistent off the tee and when he’s putting like he did over the final two days in Abu Dhabi (he rolled in 35 feet of putts through his first two holes in the final round to set an early tone), he forces comparisons to the established threesome of Spieth, Day and McIlroy whether he’s interested in membership in that party at this point or not.

Earlier this week, Fowler seemed to dismiss the idea that he deserved a seat at the “Big 3” table, figuring that distinction was reserved for those who have proven themselves where it counts the most – at a major.

“I may not be as ranked as high but I’m close,” Fowler said. “A major would help become a solid part of the talk.”

While Fowler’s desert defeat of the world’s Nos. 1 and 3 was impressive, it still doesn’t scratch the Grand Slam itch. But it certainly furthers the conversation about the game’s top cadre of players, however many names that list may include.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."