Tour brethren celebrate Fowler's breakthrough

By Rex HoggardMay 7, 2012, 1:08 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “Trust it Rickie,” caddie Joe Skovron whispered in a tone loud enough to be heard across Quail Hollow’s 18th-green amphitheater.

As if a 23-year-old has reason to second-guess. Sure he’d heard the drumbeat of doubt, the type of overtly critical analysis manifest with unrequited expectations. As recently as last Wednesday Rickie Fowler had reminded the media masses that he’d be a fifth-year senior at Oklahoma State had he not traded dorm life for a day job on the PGA Tour.

On Sunday Fowler painted Quail Hollow’s “Green Mile” OSU orange, a walk-off win fit for a phenom with equal parts drama, heartbreak and heroics, the latter coming courtesy a wedge shot at the first extra hole that nestled to 4 feet for his PGA Tour breakthrough.

It was apropos that a victory that seemed so long in the making would go to extra innings. That the collection of Tour frat brothers lingering about the 18th green following the one-hole playoff was a testament to Fowler’s popularity, which always ran deeper than his mass marketing exterior.

“It’s so great that Rickie won,” said Gerry McIlroy, notable because he is the affable father of Rory, who – along with D.A. Points – Fowler defeated in extra frames after finishing 72 holes tied at 14 under.

Now that’s appeal. And it shows how those within the game viewed Fowler’s rise, which was criticized in some circles for its languid pace. So much so that out of the gates on Wednesday Fowler was poised with a ready answer when asked about his winless schneid.

“I won the (2011) Korean Open,” he smiled.

In retrospect the kid’s redirect was a telling precursor to his Wells Fargo victory, having gone head-to-head with McIlroy in a Sunday shootout last year in Korea.

But not many figured this was Rickie’s week. Not when he began the final turn two strokes behind a cruising Webb Simpson with the likes of McIlroy, who won this event in 2010 for his maiden Tour tilt, and Nick Watney laying in wait.

But when Simpson faltered out of the gates, making the turn in 1 over, it quickly became the Rickie & Rory show when Fowler birdied the 12th to grab a share of the lead and he moved clear of the field with a two-putt birdie at No. 15.

Yet even then there were doubts when he went from bunker to bunker at the 16th to drop out of the lead with the rest of the “Green Mile” looming. When his slicing, downhill 20-footer for birdie at the last slid by it seemed Fowler had come up short, again.

From a small room in the sprawling Quail Hollow clubhouse Fowler watched his fortunes change in rapid order. First Points pushed his approach right of the last green and made his first bogey of the weekend and McIlroy forced the second playoff in as many years in Charlotte when his 16-footer for birdie missed wide.

In the playoff it was all Fowler. A drive to 133 yards, a bold 51-degree wedge to 4 feet, a birdie on a hole that yielded just five sub-par scores on Sunday, a breakthrough so long in the coming.

“Rickie and his caddie picked a good club. They picked a club that was either going to go there or it might go in the creek,” said Points, who closed with a 71 for his best finish since his victory last year at Pebble Beach. “To hit that shot, that was the kind of club he needed. The shot he hit was spectacular.”

Quintessential Fowler – colorful and entertaining.

Although Fowler had said he wasn’t bothered by those who doubted his ability to win, on Sunday, with a chalice secured, he relented.

“There’s definitely some relief,” said Fowler, whose closing 69 featured six birdies and three bogeys. “There were times when I felt like I pushed a little bit, whereas this week I sat back and waited for it. . . . There are a lot of people who said I’d never win so it’s nice to shut them up a little bit.”

No one has ever doubted McIlroy, who despite opening with two bogeys in his first four holes seemed destined for his second Wells Fargo title until a sloppy bogey at the 17th hole.

In his first tournament since the Masters the Ulsterman showed the kind of power and precision that will make him a favorite at this week’s Players Championship, and beyond.

“To come back after three weeks off and get myself in the mix. I gave myself a chance to win, which was nice,” said McIlroy, whose runner-up showing pushed him back atop the world golf ranking. “It gives me a bit of confidence going into next week.”

One player who won’t be overflowing with confidence when he wheels down TPC Sawgrass Lane will be Tiger Woods, who endured just his eighth missed cut as a professional following rounds of 71-73 and is now heading to a golf course that has been anything but friendly confines.

Woods hasn’t finished the week the last two years at The Players, withdrawing in 2010 and 2011 with injury, has contended just once on the Stadium Course in the last decade and is searching for his first win there since 2001.

“First wins,” however, are no longer a concern for Fowler, who now has substance to go with all that style.

“It was going to be sooner or later and I’m just glad it was sooner,” said Ben Crane, who joined Fowler on the 18th green for the victory celebration. “I wouldn’t have wanted it to start bothering him.”

Skovron had it right, we just had to trust it.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry