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.

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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.

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Watch: Fathauer dunks one off flagstick for eagle

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 7:45 pm

The NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest will take place Saturday night in Los Angeles, but Derek Fathauer kicked things off a little early with this eagle in the third round of the Genesis Open.

Playing his second shot on the par-4 third hole at Riviera Country Club, Fathauer dunked one off the flagstick and into the hole for an eagle-2:

The shot got the the 32-year-old, in search of his first PGA Tour victory, under par for the round and into the mix early on Moving Day.

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Luiten in three-way tie at Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 4:17 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten showed a return to form after a mediocre 2017 as he moved into a three-way tie for the lead in the Oman Open on Saturday.

The Dutchman shot a second straight 6-under 66 - the joint best score of the day - to move to 12-under 204. He was joined at the top by Matthew Southgate (69) and Frenchman Julien Guerrier (66) after the third round at the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf Club.

England's Chris Wood (69), another man on the comeback trail, was in fourth place at 11 under, but it could have been a lot better if not for a bogey-bogey finish. Adrian Otaegui (66) was a shot behind Wood while pre-tournament favorite, France's Alexander Levy (67), was at 9 under.

The 90th-ranked Luiten credited some hot iron play for his success after a cracked driver set him back last year when he had just two top-10 finishes the whole season.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''I cracked my driver in my first tournament of the year in Abu Dhabi and it took me almost six months to get another one that I really liked. Once you are not driving the ball well, it puts pressure on other parts of your game,'' said the 32-year-old Luiten. ''My iron play did not get me into trouble at all today.''

Southgate was quick off the block with three birdies in his first three holes. But the Englishman then made two bogeys and a double bogey in his next four holes, and a birdie on the ninth saw him make the turn at even-par.

That forced him to think differently for the back nine and he was rewarded with three birdies.

''It was quite funny really,'' Southgate said. ''We birdied the ninth and I walked off and said to my caddie Gary ... 'We've just shot level par, so let's just pretend that we've made nine solid pars and that we haven't holed a putt and haven't made a birdie. Let's just start again on the 10th'.''

The 32-year-old Guerrier started his round with a monster 48-foot birdie putt and had an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys.

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J.Y. Ko increases lead; Lydia focuses on positives

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 3:33 pm

ADELAIDE, Australia - Jin Young Ko continued her domination of the Women's Australian Open, shooting a 1-under 71 Saturday to increase her lead to four strokes after three rounds.

The South Korean, who led after each of the opening two rounds of the LPGA tournament, had a three-round total of 11-under 205 at Kooyonga Golf Club.

Australian golfer Hannah Green moved into second place after the round of the day, a 66.

Green, 21, is seeking to become the first Australian to claim her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014. Webb, who is playing a part-time schedule in 2018, missed the cut Friday by one stroke.

Green birdied her first three holes on Saturday and then added two more on the eighth and ninth. Two more birdies followed on the back nine with her only dropped shot a bogey on the 17th.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

"I was very pleased with my ball striking," Green said. "I have put myself in contention so I'm very happy with how things are panning out.

"It was a real shame about Karrie missing the cut, but I know she has got different plans."

South Korea's Hyejin Choi (70), was tied for third, five strokes behind. Australia's top-ranked golfer Minjee Lee was tied for fifth after a 69, six off the lead.

Former No. 1 Lydia Ko shot a 71 and was eight strokes behind.

"It's always nice to be able to start the season on a good note, and I've obviously got tomorrow," Lydia Ko said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to finish off on a high note."

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Cantlay, McDowell, Saunders share lead at Riviera

By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2018, 3:51 am

LOS ANGELES - Tiger Woods waited 12 years to get back to Riviera and lasted only two days.

Woods had three straight bogeys early on the back nine Friday and didn't play well enough to make up for his misses. He had a 5-over 76 and missed the cut in the Genesis Open for the first time in nine appearances as a pro.

He was at 6-over 148, one shot worse than his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old at Riviera.

''I missed every tee shot left and I did not putt well, didn't feel very good on the greens,'' Woods said. ''And consequently, never made a run. I knew I had to make a run on that back nine, and I went the other way.''

Patrick Cantlay ran off three straight birdies toward the end of his morning round, starting with a tap-in on the par-3 sixth when he missed a hole-in-one by a fraction of an inch, and shot a 69. He was tied with Graeme McDowell (66), the former U.S. Open champion who is trying to work his way back from a two-year slump.

They were at 7-under 135.

Sam Saunders also was at 7 under, making back-to-back birdies until it was too dark to continue. He had three holes remaining in his second round. Ryan Moore bogeyed his final hole for a 68 and was one shot behind at 136.

Rory McIlroy overcame a few short misses on the front nine for a 69 and was at 2-under 140.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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Cantlay was coming off a three-putt bogey when his tee shot at the par-3 sixth - the hole with a bunker in the middle of the green - landed above the flag and to the right, and then rolled back down the slope just over the right edge of the cup.

''I actually missed a little to the right, but it's a bowl back there so as long as you get the number right, it should be pretty close,'' Cantlay said.

He followed with a short iron into 5 feet for birdie, a 15-foot birdie on the next hole and then a wild drive that led to a bogey on his final hole.

McDowell has gone 59 starts worldwide since his last victory and has fallen out of the top 200 in the world. He had missed four straight cuts dating to late last year, though he felt he was hitting it well in practice. What helped was seeing some good scores.

''All I'm missing is a couple little numbers and a little bit of confidence,'' McDowell said.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 69 and gets to stick around for the weekend. He was at 1-over 143. Bubba Watson, who won in 2014 and 2016, has fallen out of the top 200 in the world after a two-year drought. He shot a 70 and was at 4-under 138, and then headed for the NBA All-Star weekend to play in the celebrity game.