Fowler bolsters profile with signature win at Players

By John FeinsteinMay 12, 2015, 3:15 pm

There will be a lot said and written in the coming weeks about what Rickie Fowler “proved” by winning The Players Championship on Sunday in dramatic fashion.

There will be talk about how he proved those players who anonymously labeled him as one of the two most overrated players in golf (Ian Poulter being the other) were wrong. There will be those who will say he’s now re-established himself as one of the game’s young guns and as one of the top 10 players in the world – his Official World Golf Ranking of No. 9 backing that up.

The most important thing Fowler proved is something he proved more than 18 months ago: He doesn’t want to go down as golf’s version of Anna Kournikova. You remember Kournikova: She was the first of the stunning blonde Russian tennis players who was good enough to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1997 and was briefly ranked in the top 10.

But, Kournikova turned out to be a jock version of Narcissus – the famous prince who fell so in love with his reflection that the gods turned him into a flower. Instead of turning Kournikova into a flower, the tennis gods turned her into a hacker. She never won an individual title.

Even so, Kournikova was the most popular female tennis player in the world for years and made millions off the court through sponsorships and modeling.

Once upon a time, it appeared that Fowler could become golf’s answer to Kournikova. He had teeny-bopper good looks and a unique fashion style that quickly made him wealthy, long before he won on the PGA Tour. Of course he also had plenty of game and there were flashes – just as with Kournikova’s Wimbledon run – that proved it.

In 2010, Cory Pavin made him a surprise Ryder Cup captain’s pick, and then Fowler rallied from 4 down in his singles match by birdieing the last four holes to steal a half-point from Edoardo Molinari.



He finally broke through on the PGA Tour in dramatic fashion when he beat Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff at Quail Hollow in 2012, flagging his second shot to the difficult par-4 18th to set up a winning birdie.

Fowler was only 23 at the time and it seemed likely that the win – especially that kind of win – would be a springboard for him.

But even though there were solid performances over the next 18 months, there was nothing that lived up to that win or the hype, the commercials, the screaming girls and becoming a one-name player – “Rickie!” – without the portfolio that usually accompanies that title.

By the end of 2013, after Fowler had failed to win again or contend in any of that year’s majors, there were those who thought Fowler might be an image-is-everything athlete. It would have been easy for Fowler to accept that fate: He had made millions and was playing well enough that he could continue to make more than enough money as a reasonably good golfer for years to come.

Fowler didn’t want that. He decided it was time to buckle down and be a golfer first and a corporate salesman later. He hired Butch Harmon as his teacher and listened to what Harmon was telling him about his swing, about his work ethic and about his ability to compete under pressure.

He also cut his hair and got rid of the long-billed cap that had become his signature.

RickieFowlergolf.com became secondary to Rickie Fowler the golfer.

The new teacher and new approach paid off in 2014 – not with a victory but with remarkably consistent play in the majors – becoming the third player in history (the other two are named Woods and Nicklaus) to finish in the top five in all four majors in the same year.

He chased McIlroy down the stretch in Liverpool at the British Open and was right in the middle of the after-dusk finish at the PGA Championship in Louisville.

At 25, he had shown the world that there was substance behind the marketing campaign. The question, as 2015 dawned, was whether he was ready to take the next step.

He hasn’t yet – he still needs a major title to put himself into golf’s pantheon – but the way he won The Players is about as close as you can get. It was certainly memorable. The way he played the last six holes (four birdies and an eagle) was remarkable enough. But beating Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia in the playoff by twice making birdie at No. 17 was the sort of under-pressure playing that will be talked about for years.

More important than that, it is a memory that Fowler can summon the next time he’s in position to win a major, which may come very soon.

Fowler insisted after his win that he had “laughed” about the player poll that ranked he and Poulter as the two most overrated players in the game. Fowler said on Friday that he was “happy” about the poll because it motivated him.

Clearly, that was true. The argument can be made that no one should take an anonymous poll of any kind seriously. It’s very easy to take shots at people when you don’t have to stand behind what you’re saying. It’s to Fowler’s credit that he used the poll, however specious it might have been, to set up the best weekend of his career.

It’s worth remembering that golfers peak at different times. Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth were 21 when they won their first majors; Jack Nicklaus and McIlroy were 22. Arnold Palmer was 28; Phil Mickelson was 33 and Ben Hogan was 34. At 26, Fowler still has plenty of time to win that first major and then win some more.

Golf could be entering an era that will be quite different than the Woods era. Woods was a dynasty, the favorite every time he teed it up for most of 12 years. With McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler and Jason Day all ranked in the top 10 well before turning 30, and with Woods and Mickelson still around hoping for one last great moment, there is no telling what the next few years will bring.

Chances are, a lot of it will be spectacular. Fowler was certainly that on Sunday.

Getty Images

Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

Getty Images

Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

Getty Images

Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

Getty Images

Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.