Instant classic: Fowler's win delivers on drama

By Randall MellMay 11, 2015, 2:26 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – You can’t script drama like The Players Championship delivered late Sunday afternoon at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.

You can build a fabulous amphitheater, you can give players a dazzling stage, but then all you can do is stand back and watch them improvise.

What Rickie Fowler and Co. dreamed up will go down as a classic.

Fowler helped turn the course Pete Dye built on a swamp all those years ago into sport’s real Field of Dreams.

For more than two hours, Fowler and a brilliant supporting cast gave us drama almost as magical as that imagined in the fictional Iowa cornfield author Ray Kinsella created in his popular book that was turned into a movie. In fact, if Kinsella had written this finish to The Players, we might have seen Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead in the shadows tipping their caps to Fowler.

Maybe even high fiving each other.

That’s how ridiculously over the top Fowler’s finish was.

“Obviously, an amazing finish,” Sergio Garcia said.

Fowler won on the fourth hole of Sunday’s playoff making birdie after hitting a gap wedge to 4 feet and 8 inches at the par-3 17th.

He played the famed island hole three times on Sunday and birdied it all three times, twice in the playoff.


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He played the final six holes of regulation in 6 under par.

Fowler birdied 15, eagled 16, birdied 17 and birdied 18 in regulation to get in a playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, whose terrific finishes were reduced to footnotes.

Counting the playoff, Fowler played his final 10 holes in 8 under.

Kinsella doesn’t dream up stuff like that.

“Obviously, he’s not overrated,” Kisner said. “I think he proved that today.”

With the week starting amid a buzz over a player survey naming Fowler and Ian Poulter as the PGA Tour’s most overrated players, Fowler conceded he had some extra motivation if he needed “a kick in the butt” this weekend. What he did is kick everyone else’s butt.

“I didn't vote for Rickie as most overrated,” Billy Horschel said. “You can put me down for that. I don't know what people were thinking about when they thought he was overrated. He's such a humble guy and such a good guy, he doesn't brag about anything he does. I guess the only unfortunate thing for him is that the media hypes him up a lot because he is really talented.”

At 26, Fowler might have been criticized for falling short of expectations coming into this week with just his one PGA Tour title, but he spent Sunday exceeding what anybody could have expected over Dye’s finishing holes. Fowler hit more clutch shots in two hours than most of his peers will hit in an entire season.

The first time through the par-5 16th, Fowler carved a 3-wood from 240 yards around the lake, dropping his shot inches beyond the water. He watched it softly hop to 2 feet to set up his eagle.

Then Fowler marched to the 17th and hit wedge to 7 feet for birdie, and then he marched to the 18th, where he striped a 330-yard drive down the middle, setting up yet another birdie. He posted his 67 to get to 12 under an hour before the final group finished.

Fowler owned the island hole on Sunday. He eliminated Kisner in the end with that shot to 4 feet.

“A sick shot,” Kisner said.

The finish couldn’t have been more perfect for Fowler with his mother and sister scrambling back from the airport to see the playoff.

His mother, Lynn, and his sister, Taylor, were staying in villas near the course. They had a Mother’s Day lunch with Rickie and his girlfriend, Alexis Randock, and shortly after they headed to the Jacksonville Airport to catch a United flight home.

Lynn said they had checked their baggage at about 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. flight when she received a text message as they were heading to the security lines.

“It got a text saying Rickie just stuck it to 2 feet at the 16th,” Lynn said. “We figured we should get back.”

There was a challenge getting back. Lynn and Taylor weren’t alone. Their arms were still full after checking in with Lynn’s two shih tzus. Still, she called PGA Tour’s transportation company, and she was told there were cars still there at the airport. A valet whisked a car over.

“Taylor jumped in the driver’s seat, and we threw the dogs in the car,” Lynn said.

Throughout the drive back to the golf course, Lynn busily texted friends for updates.

“I don’t follow social media,” Lynn said.

Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, let Rickie know his mom and sister were on their way back as he waited for the playoff. Lynn and Taylor arrived in time to see the playoff begin. Rickie said he had no doubt they would.

“Taylor can handle herself behind the wheel,” Rickie said. “We both grew up riding and racing dirt bikes. She can manage.”

Rickie paid special tribute to his mother at the trophy presentation, but Lynn said she wanted him to know the day was special for other reasons.

“I know it’s Mother’s Day, but I texted him this morning telling him this was his day,” Lynn said. “I said `Do this for you.’”

Fowler delivered a classic finish for golf fans everywhere.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”