PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The comeback effort was alive and well for Rickie Fowler at The Players Championship until an unfortunate encounter with a palm tree lining the sixth fairway.
Fowler had bounced back from an opening-round 74 at TPC Sawgrass, recording six birdies over the first 14 holes of his second round to reach 3 under, well inside the cut line. His tee shot on No. 6 drifted just right of the fairway, but he didn’t believe it to be an egregious miss.
It was only when he got up to the ball that the drama ensued, as Fowler’s ball had become lodged in the fronds of a palm tree at least 20 feet above the ground.
“It’s a rare occasion,” Fowler said. “Obviously didn’t make a great swing, but it’s five yards right of the fairway and the marshals and fans were standing right there, saw it was the tree it hit and obviously got stuck up there.”
Unfortunately for Fowler, fan opinions aren’t enough to continue under Rule 28-11, whereby he would have taken an unplayable lie and dropped within two club lengths of the base of the tree. Fowler had to first identify his ball, and he tried peering through binoculars to look for any sort of markings – even at one point leaning on PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell’s shoulders for stability.
But after several minutes of squinting and a failed attempt by fans to shake the ball loose from the tree, Fowler came up empty.
“Unfortunately the part of the ball that was showing was just all the white and dimples,” Fowler said.
Unable to officially identify the ball, Fowler was not allowed to drop next to the tree and had no choice but to return to the tee to play his third shot. He ended up making double bogey, then doubled the next hole after pulling his tee shot into the water. The two-hole stretch unraveled the progress of the previous three hours, and after a 1-under 71 he finished two shots outside the projected cut line.
It continues a mystifying track record for Fowler on the Stadium Course, where he won in 2015 and finished T-2 in 2012 but has now missed the cut in five of his seven other appearances while failing to finish better than T-60.
Minutes after his round, Fowler’s frustration was focused on the rule book that he felt helped in part to derail his tournament.
“I mean, if a ball happens to hit something and go into a hazard, it’s not like you have to go identify the ball inside the hazard or in the water. It’s, 'Hey, we saw it go right here,'” Fowler said. “So, I mean it was pretty clear that the ball was there, that was where everybody saw it go and heard it go. But not the case with that one.”