Fowler gaining confidence for Masters

By Randall MellFebruary 26, 2016, 9:54 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rickie Fowler looks like he can’t wait to get to the Masters.

Like all those dogwoods and azaleas at Augusta National, he’s aiming to bloom spectacularly there.

Is this his time? Is this his spring?

With another 4-under-par 66 Friday at the Honda Classic, Fowler is showing more signs he’s getting his game ready for something big. Yes, there’s a long weekend ahead, but he’s got something special working in his game right now. He has a lot of confidence going sitting atop the leaderboard, one shot ahead of Jimmy Walker (66) and two shots ahead of Sergio Garcia (69).

Yes, PGA National’s Champion Course is a beast of a regular Tour stop. There’s trouble everywhere here, lots of knee-knocking shots through blustery winds this week, lots of forced carries over water. Nothing is certain here. Fortunes soar and plunge so quickly on this course.

“If you can win here, you can win a major,” Padraig Harrington said at week’s start.

This place can knock the confidence out of a player in a heartbeat, but if Fowler can win in these conditions, it’s a large statement, a confirmation he’s ready for an even larger test on an even larger stage. It’s another sign he’s ready to win his first major.

“It’s not easy,” Fowler said of PGA National. “It takes a lot out of you ... There’s a lot of trouble out there, and it will jump up and bite you quick.”

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Just ask Ian Poulter. He led going into the final round last year and knocked five shots into the water and somehow still nearly won. World No. 3 Rory McIlroy knocked two shots in the water Friday and left appearing poised to miss the cut.

How hot is Fowler? He’s bogey-free through 36 holes. He’s the only player in the field who hasn’t made a bogey.

“That’s a big accomplishment around here,” Fowler said.

Fowler, 27, is looking to win for the fifth time in his last 21 starts, but there were some questions when he left Arizona three weeks ago. He also made a great weekend start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open but ended up squandering a two-shot lead with two holes to go in the final round, then lost a playoff with Hideki Matsuyama. Fowler left in tears, upset he couldn’t win with his grandfather in the gallery. There are always questions about how a player will bounce back from a tough loss.

How did Fowler respond? He went out and got in some record-breaking practice. He went to work sharpening up his swing with his coach, Butch Harmon. And then he went out last week and set the course record at the Floridian near his South Florida home, shooting a 60 playing with Harmon and with LPGA pros Suzann Pettersen and Yani Tseng.

Fowler actually set course records in back-to-back days. He went out the day before that and put up the new low score on the redesigned Medalist, posting a 66 at another beast of a South Florida course. Medalist measures 7,571 yards from the tips with a slope of 155 and course rating of 77.9. According to Golf Digest’s rankings of the 75 Toughest Courses, Medalist ranks behind only Kiawah Island.

“Rickie is playing really, really well,” Garcia said. “So, I'm going to have to play extremely well to keep up with him. We'll see.”

Garcia and Fowler are pals. They played together in the first two rounds.

“We've always played well together,” Fowler said. “We hang out on and off the golf course, good buddies, and we enjoy playing together. I think we were able to feed off each other a bit and push each other.”

Fowler is looking to feed off the company of greatness this spring. He has been spending some special time with some special folks in South Florida. Fowler played 36 holes with former NBA great Michael Jordan on Tuesday and had dinner with Jack Nicklaus on Thursday as part of an American Ryder Cup dinner at the Nicklaus home.

If Fowler stays in the hunt this weekend, there’s a possibility Jordan could make an appearance on property.

“Maybe Sunday, because it’s his day off,” Fowler said of Jordan’s proclivity for playing 36 holes every day. “We play all the time, whenever we’re both home.”

At the Nicklaus gathering, Fowler said he enjoyed listening to Nicklaus talk about how he prepared for majors.

“He’s in a position now where he can kind of share that, and he’s not giving away any secrets,” Fowler  said.

What did Fowler take from that talk?

“I think some of it was just learning a little bit more of his prep work, kind of how he went about things, and then the confidence and belief that he had going into a tournament, once he had that preparation done,” Fowler said. “He knew he was ready to play on Thursday. And I feel like I've begun to learn a little bit more about what he's talking about the past couple years, where Thursday I'm ready to go and know what I'm bringing to the golf course, and know what I'm capable of.”

Fowler would relish leaving the Honda Classic with more confidence he’s capable of winning the Masters.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”