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Déjà vu all over again: Fowler back in major hunt

By Rex HoggardAugust 9, 2018, 7:50 pm

ST. LOUIS – It’s like Grand Slam clockwork. Rickie Fowler goes out and does Rickie Fowler things, moves into the hunt at a major, and then waits patiently for the inevitable.

Question: Are you aware of how many majors it took Phil Mickelson to win [his first] major and, if so, does that inspire you and give you hope?

Answer: I always have hope.

If that sounds prepared, maybe even rehearsed, Fowler should be forgiven. He’s fielded the same give-and-take for the better part of his career.

In 2014, when he completed the Top 5 Slam with top-5 finishes in each of the year’s four majors, Fowler endured the ever-present slings and arrows of a public that celebrates victories, not near-misses.

In 2017, when he entered the final round of the U.S. Open just two strokes off the lead, his long-awaited Grand Slam tilt seemed like a fait accompli, a foregone conclusion. It was all there, the talent, the determination, the experience, every piece of the complicated major puzzle dropping neatly into the proper order.

“Yes, but he still has to do it,” warned Fowler’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, at the time.

Fowler would tie for fifth at Erin Hills.

Fowler’s most recent brush with the Grand Slam ceiling came in April at the Masters, when he closed his week with a birdie at the last hole to move to within a stroke of Patrick Reed.

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The PGA Championship is Fowler’s 36th major start and he remains winless in the game’s biggest events. In his defense, sometimes you lose a major and sometimes you get beat; this year’s Masters qualifies as the latter for Fowler, after Reed played flawlessly down the stretch for victory.

“It wasn't something that I needed to get over, it was definitely a great week, I left everything out there on the golf course so it wasn't necessarily like, ‘Oh, man, what if I would have hit this shot instead of this shot,’” Fowler explained on Thursday at Bellerive. “The back nine I executed nearly perfect. After I birdied 12, I really thought I could birdie in.”

Fowler is back at it this week at the PGA Championship, opening the year’s final major with a ball-striking clinic, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation for a 5-under 65.

Fowler was two strokes clear of the field when he walked off a steamy golf course [he finished the day one back of Gary Woodland] and his lone bogey was a testament to how well played. For nearly any other player, that kind of round to begin a major would be a reason to celebrate. For Fowler, it was a reason to answer those all-too-familiar parade of questions.

Question: Are there times when you sit back and wonder to yourself, when is my time going to come?

Answer: You can't force the issue. It relates to some of our game plan and how we're going about this week as far as just trying to play within ourselves and not do anything extra special. I don't have to play special to win.

Fowler’s plight is a curious one. His four PGA Tour victories are a tribute to his talent, and his triumph at the 2015 Players Championship would qualify in many circles as a “major light.” But when compared to his celebrity, however unfair that might be, there is a conversation to be had regarding unfulfilled potential.

The 29-year-old is pretty good at building firewalls between himself and the noise. He knows what will be said about his opening 65 and his chances to end his Grand Slam drought, and he’s also learned, through a decade of trial and mostly error, that nothing good comes from those types of goal-based expectations.

“I'm looking forward to the days to come and like I mentioned a few times, really all we can do is take care of each day,” he said. “It sounds cliché, hole by hole, shot by shot, but Thursday you can check the success box and move on to Friday.”

Fowler isn’t hiding behind the platitudes, he’s living by them. He may still be unsure exactly what it takes to clear the Grand Slam hurdle, but fixating on the outcome certainly isn’t the answer.

Fowler explained he still hasn’t watched the highlights of the final round from this year’s Masters, whether if that’s by design or accident is unclear, but he has a general idea of what transpired on that Sunday.

“Jordan [Spieth] told me Patrick had a long putt on 17 from off the green, it hit the pin to kind of stay on the green type of thing. Saying that's a good break or not, don't know,” said Fowler, whose 65 on Day 1 matched his lowest round in a major. “Sometimes that's something you need to get over the hump to get the job done that week.”

Perhaps that kind of break is exactly what Fowler needs to summit the only mountain in golf that remains for him, maybe this is the week he gets his break. Of all the predictable questions that come his way at majors, it’s the one answer that continues to elude him.

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Podcast: Welcome our guest - Tiger Tracker

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 7:47 pm

Host Will Gray calls him “The man, the myth, the legend.”

GCTiger Tracker, aka “TT,” makes his highly anticipated first guest appearance in a Golf Channel podcast, pontificating on everything from Tiger Woods’ run at the PGA Championship at Bellerive to the overall nature of Tiger’s comeback and what breakthroughs may lie ahead.

Tiger Tracker, Golf Channel’s mystery man, continues to rigorously protect his identity as the foremost Twitter tracker of all things Tiger, but he does open up on his intense relationship with his growing legion of followers and his “trigger finger” when it comes to blocking those unworthy of his insight.

“I’m more of a lover than a hater of Tiger Woods, but I’m a tracker,” TT tells Gray. “I call it like I see it.”

Tracker goes deep on what he sees as his role in continuing to document Tiger’s comeback, including a sense of kinship in this journey.

“I had 142,000 followers on the Monday of the Bahamas [late last year], and as we speak now, 296,000, more than double in that short span,” Tracker says. “That shows you what he’s been able to do, what we’ve been able to do together. Let’s be honest about that.”

Listen in below:

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Olesen hopes to cause Ryder Cup chain reaction

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 7:13 pm

With his move up the leaderboard Friday at the Nordea Masters, Thorbjorn Olesen continued his hard charge to make the European Ryder Cup team on points and take some pressure off team captain and fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn.

With a 4-under-par 66, Olesen is in contention in Sweden, five shots off the lead.

With a finish of second or better this week, Olesen can climb among the top four on the European Ryder Cup points list, bumping Tommy Fleetwood with less than three weeks left in qualifying. Olesen is currently sixth on the European points list.

“I'm trying not to think about it at all,” Olesen said after the first round. “That's obviously difficult, but I'm really trying to put my head down and concentrate on my game.”

Olesen, 28, doesn’t want to put Bjorn in an awkward position when it’s time to make the four captain’s picks.

Full-field scores from the Nordea Masters

“Thomas and I are great friends,” Olesen said. “I don't think that makes it better for me. It might make it worse. I would love to get in that team [on points]. That's my goal.”

That’s the way Bjorn prefers it, too.

“I’ve made it very clear that he needs to do something very special to make this team and preferably make it on merit, because I can’t be in a situation where I feel like I’m doing anybody a favor,” Bjorn said before last week’s PGA Championship. “To be honest, I’ve taken a slight step away from him at the moment, just to let him concentrate on his own golf.”

Olesen is on a nice run. He won the Italian Open and tied for second at the BMW International Open in June, tied for sixth at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July and tied for third at the WGC Bridgestone two weeks ago.

“I would love to be in Paris, to play for Europe,” Olesen said. “I can only go out every day and try to play good golf and show that I'm good enough for the team. That's all I can do.

“I haven't talked to Thomas about the Ryder Cup the last four or five months.”

If Olesen moves among the top four on the European points list this weekend, it has a chain reaction, with Fleetwood then moving over to take one of four qualifying spots on the European world points list. That would bump Ian Poulter outside the top four of that list. The Nordea Masters is among the final three European Tour events that players can qualify on points.


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Getting cheeky: 'Beef' drops trou, saves par

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 3:23 pm

Andrew "Beef" Johnston provided the Nordea Masters crowd a little beefcake - that was just too easy - on Friday when he dropped trou during the second round.

He had pulled his drive on the short (253 yards) par-4 12th hole into a hazard, but the ball was playable. He played a mud-spattered explosion out of the muck, then opted to abandon his trousers for a pair of rain pants, much to the delight of the fans. The story has a happy ending, too. After hitting his second shot over the green, he chipped up and saved par.

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Cut Line: An appreciation of Woods, Lyle

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2018, 2:13 pm

In a regular-season finale edition, we celebrate how far Tiger Woods has come this season, mourn the loss of one of the game’s truly special people and crunch the numbers on Sergio Garcia’s 11th-hour sprint to the playoffs.

Made Cut

Perspective. Tiger Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was another reason to appreciate the 14-time major winner’s comeback, and to marvel at how far he’s come in a relatively short period of time.

“I didn't know what my schedule would be. I didn't know how many tournaments I would play this year or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges,” Woods reminded us following his closing 64 at Bellerive.

Although Woods has repeatedly talked about those dark and painful days before fusion surgery on his lower back, a recent interview with Nick Faldo on the Dan Patrick Show revealed just how bad things were.

 “I know [Woods] whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago [2017], 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,’” Faldo said. “He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the [2016] Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain.”

Woods’ improved play in recent months has slowly glossed over just how bad things were, not to mention how far he’s come.

RIP Jarrod Lyle. The PGA Tour community continues to mourn the loss of Lyle, who died last week at home in Australia following his third bout with acute myeloid leukemia.

A GoFundMe page created by Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour quickly met its goal of raising $200,000 for Lyle’s family, and tournament officials at this week’s Wyndham Championship placed Lyle’s staff bag, along with his signature bright-yellow bucket hat, on the first tee.

Officials at Sedgefield Country Club also created a sand castle memorial for Lyle, who played the Wyndham Championship four times in his career.

“It was hard not to think of Jarrod, certainly,” Adam Scott said on Sunday at the PGA. “The people who knew him quite well that were playing this week, golf was a little distraction, but probably now, as we get some time off and get to go home and be with our family, that we will be able to celebrate him a little bit more.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bon voyage Bellerive. Major championship golf returned to St. Louis for the first time in two decades last week, and the Midwestern masses celebrated like it had been more than 20 years.

Record crowds swarmed the layout all week and Sunday’s final round was the most raucous day in golf (non-Ryder Cup division) since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Even the golf course, which featured slower-than-normal greens and wet conditions following storms on Tuesday and Friday, received high praise from the rank and file, all of which makes the course’s Grand Slam future so awkward.

The PGA Championship is booked up pretty much through 2029, with one open date, either 2025 or ’26, still available; while the Ryder Cup is scheduled through the 2024 matches at Bethpage, which means the earliest it could be played at Bellerive is 2028.

As much as players and fans celebrated golf’s return to St. Louis, Bellerive’s future place on the Grand Slam dance card has a distinct “don’t call us, we’ll call you” feel to it.

Tweet of the week: @JustinThomas34 (Justin Thomas) “Fans and people in St Louis . . . y’all were unbelievable! Never heard roars like that in my life. That is what I’ve thought and dreamt major championship Sundays were like since I was a kid.”

Bubble this and that. It’s a rite of fall in professional golf, players scrambling at the year’s final regular-season event to qualify for the playoffs or improve their postseason fortunes.

Sergio Garcia is the week’s most high-profile “bubble” player in the Wyndham Championship field, with the Spaniard mired at 131st on the point list. But this is likely less about the postseason – Garcia has skipped the first playoff start the last three years – than it is his need to secure his 15th start of the season, which is required to maintain membership.

A similar scenario occurred a few seasons ago with Henrik Stenson, and as the Tour transitions to a new, condensed schedule next year it’s probably going to happen more often.

With fewer playoff events and a condensed summer schedule, players, particularly those who also play the European Tour, will be faced with some tough choices starting in 2019.

Missed Cut

Captain obvious. We can appreciate Jim Furyk’s desire to cling to protocol. He has three weeks to decide who will be his first three captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, but perhaps he should just come clean.

Following Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA, which moved him from 20th to 11th on the U.S. point list, Furyk played a particularly aloof card when asked about Tiger’s chances of being a pick.

“He's playing very well. I think there's a lot of folks out there who probably think he can help us,” Furyk said. “I realize Tiger is a story. I realize he's playing very well, and I'm excited to see that.”

While Furyk’s reluctance is understandable, anyone with a pulse and an internet connection knows Woods will be a pick. If the captain wants to focus on other things, like the eight automatic qualifiers, simply stop the formalities and make Tiger an early selection.