Newsmaker of the Year, No. 8: Rickie Fowler

By Randall MellDecember 10, 2015, 12:00 pm

Rickie Fowler wasn’t the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year

He didn’t win a major in 2015.

He didn’t do enough to challenge Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day for “Big Three” consideration.

He did, however, deliver the most spectacular performance of the season during a breakout year that recast him as one of the game’s most formidable and deserving young stars. The key word there is “deserving,” because even some of Fowler’s peers apparently didn’t believe he was worthy of all the hype he received before delivering three impressive victories this year.

Fowler began redefining himself with his spectacular finish at The Players Championship in May, winning with one of the boldest Sunday charges you’ll ever see. Named early that week with Ian Poulter as the most overrated players in the game in a magazine player survey, Fowler delivered the most eloquent answers to all his critics. He hit more clutch shots coming down the stretch at TPC Sawgrass than most players will hit in a year, more than some will hit in an entire career.

Fowler won The Players with a birdie at the fourth playoff hole, sticking a gap wedge to 4 feet and 8 inches at the famed 17th. He played the island hole three times that Sunday and birdied it all three times, twice in the playoff. He birdied 15 and eagled 16 in regulation, and then birdied both 17 and 18 to get into the playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner.

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

Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee liked the manner in which Fowler answered his critics.

“I cannot remember a more in-your-face victory,” Chamblee said.

Butch Harmon, who began working as Fowler’s swing coach about 16 months before the victory, wondered who voted Fowler most overrated.

“They must feel silly now,” Harmon told Sky TV.

The Players wasn’t Fowler’s lone statement.

A year after recording top-five finishes in each of the major championships, Fowler broke through to win on three large stages in 2015, just not major championship stages. That’s about all Fowler didn’t do while proving himself a formidable closer this year. He closed out memorably in all three of his victories.

After winning The Players, Fowler won the Scottish Open in July with birdies at three of the final four holes. He beat the strong field assembled in Scotland a week before the Open Championship. Two months after that, Fowler came from three shots behind Henrik Stenson on the back nine at the Deutsche Bank Championship to win a FedEx Cup event.

“It’s been a good year as far as being able to get the door knocked down,” Fowler said. “Last year, I put myself in positions to win, and this year I finally took care of business. I’ve been able to rack up a few trophies.”

Harmon knew what The Players would do for Fowler.

“He got so much confidence at The Players, not only in what he’s doing, but in what he can do in competition,” Harmon told USA Today. “He believes in himself now. The beauty of Rickie now is he knows how good he is. He knows all the hard work he’s done has paid off.”

Fowler will be looking to make his mark next on the majors after reaching most of his goals in 2015.

“The only goal I didn’t get was winning a major,” he said. “I guess we’ll keep that one on the list for next year.”

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.