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Don't let Fowler's fashion overshadow his work ethic

By Rex HoggardJanuary 5, 2018, 4:23 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – It’s no secret that Rickie Fowler is among the game’s preeminent fashionistas. This is, after all, the same guy who made bright orange a Sunday staple, the same guy who has rolled up to PGA Tour events in high-tops and joggers.

But Thursday’s choice at Kapalua was bold - even for him.

Fowler teed off for the year’s first round at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an island-inspired, flower-print shirt that he wore untucked. That may not sound cutting edge here on the shores of the Pacific Ocean but is very much venturesome within the often-stoic confines of professional golf.

It’s all part of Fowler’s fabric. He's a player who grew up racing motocross, a player who introduced a generation of young fans to the flat-bill hat. But has there ever been an item his clothing sponsor asked him to wear that was just too much, a style that caused a moment of pause?

“Not necessarily. Maybe some that I may not have liked the color combos or anything within reasonable boundaries that I wasn't afraid of going out and doing something different,” he said. “I've always been different. I don't want to go straight down the middle of the fairway. I like to skirt into the rough a little bit but at the same time obviously still be respectable.”

That was a fitting examination of his style choices, to be sure, but there was something to Fowler’s answer – given just moments after he’d charged in a 22-footer for eagle at No. 18 to move to within two strokes of the lead – that reflected how he approaches golf.

Is Rickie daring? Without a doubt. But determined should also be in the equation; he just doesn’t wear that element as colorfully.

It was there this week when he was asked a generalized question about how he’s approaching the new year. He went straight to the major elephant in the room.


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“The biggest and main [goal] is get a major,” he said in a very real moment of self-awareness. “I think we did a good job last year of putting myself in contention multiple times, but there needs to be some better weekends to make sure that we're on top come Sunday afternoon.”

For those who have been living under a rock the last few years, Fowler has come close, many times in fact, but has not won a major.

At last year’s U.S. Open, he started the weekend just a stroke off the lead, only to finish with rounds of 68-72 for a tie for fifth. A few months later at the PGA Championship, where he also tied for fifth place, it was a third-round 73 that hurt his chances.

In total, over 32 major starts, he has eight top-10 finishes, including runner-up outings at the U.S. Open and The Open in 2014.

Fowler has long been aware of his bridesmaid status, but recently there seems to be an added sense of urgency. Instead of clichés, there’s now an edge to his answers.

He knows he hasn’t won a major and he doesn’t like it.

Winning the annual lid-lifter in Maui won’t necessarily change that perception, but it will add to an expanding theory that Fowler is on the verge of the kind of breakthrough that can only be completed with a major victory.

Fowler ended 2017 with a flourish, finishing second at the OHL Classic in November and lapping the field at the Hero World Challenge by four strokes. His play on Day 1 in Maui – a round that could have gotten away from him after he played Nos. 11 through 13 in 3 over par – only added to that budding confidence.

“It's not necessarily not being defensive or playing offense, but just going out there and playing like you really believe it and you just go get the job done,” Fowler said. “It's not going to happen every time, but going out there and playing the way I did through the week at Mexico to the way we played on Sunday at Tiger's event, we do that, and I think we'll be just fine.”

It would be wildly unfair and patently inaccurate to view Fowler’s laid-back approach as a detriment to his game. Make no mistake, the 29-year-old is committed to perfecting his craft, as evidenced by his work with swing coach Butch Harmon in recent years.

Fowler huddled with Harmon early last month in South Florida, and it’s a telling sign that the duo worked on many of the same things they’ve been focused on in recent years, primarily Fowler's wedge play from 100-150 yards and back swing, which suggests fine-tuning more than finding something.

It’s that kind of commitment, that kind of drive, that can sometimes get overshadowed by Fowler’s brash wardrobe, but then there’s no separating the trendsetter from the tradesman. It’s all born from the same DNA.

There are limits to Fowler’s brash approach, however. Would he go for the relaxed, untucked look at other tournaments, like the Masters?

“I thought it was fun and definitely fitting for Maui,” he smiled. “It's not like you can really bring out this shirt in many other places but on the island.”

Makes sense - a flower print would definitely clash with a green jacket.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


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There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.


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“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”