Phoenix, Fowler (65) seem to be a perfect match

By Ryan Reiterman February 5, 2016, 12:25 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Standing in a fairway bunker on his final hole of the day, Rickie Fowler had a choice to make.

Option 1: Take a lofted club, blast out of the bunker and hope to get up-and-down from the fairway to save par.

Option 2: Open the face on his 7-iron, pray he doesn’t nail the lip of the bunker and just maybe his ball will land safely on the green from 170 yards out.

Fowler grew up racing dirt bikes and is still a huge fan of action sports, hence the endorsement deal with Red Bull and Instagram posts with surfing god Kelly Slater and Supercross legend Jeremy McGrath.

So, yeah, Fowler chose Option 2.

He flushed his second shot from the bunker, and it settled 12 feet away for a closing birdie, a 6-under 65 and a share of the first-round lead with Shane Lowry and Hideki Matsuyama at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"It's not one that you try and pull off a lot," he said. "Definitely at home, but tournament golf sometimes you don't try and do that. Just kind of went with it. I knew I could hit it, but I had to hit it perfect."

Fowler and the rowdy Phoenix Open seem to be a perfect match.

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The yelling and boisterous cheering from the fans remind Fowler of the crowds at an action sports event, and while some players just try to block out all the noise, Fowler embraces the atmosphere much like three-time Phoenix Open champ Phil Mickelson.

“I like playing in front of the big crowds and how crazy the fans can get, and being kind of acclimated to the atmosphere here definitely helps,” he said.

The fans at TPC Scottsdale love nothing more than to be entertained, and Fowler is one of the most exciting players in the game. He’s calm and collected on the course, but his good looks, bright Puma outfits and five worldwide wins have attracted a new crop of younger fans.

Those fans - both above and well below the legal drinking age - were out cheering on Fowler even though he had an early tee time on Thursday.

In case you haven’t heard, the fans here at TPC Scottsdale don’t exactly pace themselves.

Playing in the group in front of Mickelson, Fowler birdied three of the first four holes and then ignited the crowd with an eagle on the par-5 15th.

Fowler put a new 5-wood in the bag last week, and he said it’s finally going the distance he expects out of a 5-wood.

“Ended up with a perfect number [on 15],” he said. “I had it in to 13, as well, but I just mishit it a little bit, so it was nice to feel the rebound, hit that one. And I know the back of the green there pretty well, hit a lot of putts and know it's pretty straight, and hit my line perfect there.”

Fowler got his putter going again after a missed cut last week at Torrey Pines. He holed 15-of-16 putts inside of 15 feet.

And this is another promising stat for Fowler: In his previous two missed cuts (U.S. Open and Barclays), he’s won the following week (Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank).

But even as popular as Fowler is, he didn’t give the fans what they wanted at the par-3 16th. He missed the green and was showered with boos. He bogeyed 16, birdied 17 and bogeyed 18 to make the turn at 4 under par.

A birdie on the par-5 3rd and closing birdie on 9 out of the fairway bunker gave Fowler a share of the lead and a chance to head into the weekend with a shot at his fifth win in nine months, and second this year after winning two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi.

"I made some good putts to start the round," Fowler said. "Just kinda got everything going. Made a couple of bad swings. Cost me a little bit, but other than that, nice way to get off to a good start here."

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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.