Fowler downplays 65: 'It's just the first round'

By Rex HoggardJune 15, 2017, 8:41 pm

ERIN, Wis. – There’s something to be said for not poking the bear, and Rickie Fowler has played enough U.S. Opens to know he shouldn’t combine good fortune with gloating.

You go 'round a U.S. Open venue without making a bogey, well, that’s grit and a game that may well be ready for Sunday pressure. You add seven birdies to that card and savor your “stress-free” day, man, that’s tempting fate.

But before USGA chief Mike Davis convenes a task force to put the bite back into Erin Hills, Fowler did his very best to walk back his record round.

“It’s cool,” he said of his opening 65 that tied the lowest first-round card in relation to par at golf’s toughest test. “But it's just the first round. It’s always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf. But I'd rather be remembered for something that's done on Sunday.”

On Thursday, the great unknown that was Erin Hills turned out to be a gettable golf course, at least for those in the early wave who enjoyed calm winds from the preferred direction, putting surfaces softened to an emerald green by overnight rains and some user-friendly hole locations.

The USGA, however, has never been fans of too much of a good thing, and players were more than willing to play both sides of the fence.

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“This feels like a Tour event right now,” Brandt Snedeker reasoned. “But it will change by Sunday. I’d be shocked if 7 under wins.”

Call it political correctness, call it self-preservation, it’s always best not to give Davis and his crew a reason to start experimenting with some of those 8,000-plus-yard tees in an effort to stem that scoring tide.

Besides, if Fowler’s performance on Day 1 has the USGA’s best and brightest concerned that their new toy wasn’t up to championship quality, know that the 28-year-old played the opening frame like a guy who was made to win the U.S. Open.

He connected on 12 of 14 drives, 15 of 18 approach shots and was third in the field in strokes gained putting. Even as the winds freshened late in his round, he showed impressive poise with birdies at all the right places – all four par 5s – and sidestepping any potential disaster.

“I feel like I have great control of the ball right now and distance control, which is big on a lot of little sections out here going into greens, especially with the wind picking up,” Fowler said.

If it’s a major and Fowler has made his way into contention the narrative is as predictable as a Wisconsin summer. All the talent, all the potential, all the flash has made the American a regular conversation piece when the golf world gathers for a major.

Will he win a major? Is he the best player without a major?

The latter has become something of a backhanded compliment in recent years, a yoke worn by many from Sergio Garcia, who joined the major club in April at Augusta National, to Lee Westwood; but for American fans Fowler has emerged as a consensus pick.

That take reached a crescendo in 2014 when he finished inside the top five at all four Grand Slam stops, and even though he’s failed to finish in the top 10 at a major since, he’s remained part of the conversation, and that’s fine with Fowler.

“I take it as a compliment,” he said when asked the inevitable. “There are a lot of really good players out here that haven't won a major. So it would be nice to get rid of that at some point. I'm not saying that this is the week or isn't the week. But I like the way this golf course suits me, and we're off to a good start.”

There is no doubt the heightened expectations are justified. Although he’d missed two of his last four weekends heading into the year’s second Grand Shindig, he finished runner-up two weeks ago at the Memorial and has excelled this year at some crucial U.S. Open requirements – most notably ball-striking (he’s second on Tour in strokes gained total and seventh in strokes gained putting).

He’s also worked to become more comfortable traversing the game’s most scrutinized punchbowls. He and caddie Joe Skovron worked hard coming up with a game plan for this week’s championship and even in changing conditions on Thursday he didn’t waver.

He’s relaxed, rooming this week with his #SB2K17 running mate Justin Thomas at a nearby house, and most importantly he’s become adept at ignoring those external expectations.

On four occasions on Thursday, Fowler added the caveat that “there’s still a lot of golf to play,” or something similar. He’s all too aware of the inherent pitfalls of winning major championships, even with the cushion of a 7-under 65 on Day 1. Cautious optimism is probably the best way to describe Fowler, which is understandable considering that in his last five rounds at the U.S. Open before Thursday he was 27 over par.

In short, he knows as well as anyone that the USGA gives and the USGA takes with equal abandon.

This week feels different, thanks in large part to a putter that converted five birdie attempts from outside 7 feet, and while he was quick to keep his start in perspective, he didn’t leave any room for ambiguity when asked if he was ready to win that elusive first major.

“Yeah, I'm ready to be out there,” he said. “Having a win this year at the Honda [Classic], being in contention at majors in the past, and having The Players win has definitely done a lot for me. So, yeah, it's going to be a fun week. I like the way this course suits my game.”

If that doesn’t exactly sound like a man poised for his Grand Slam breakthrough, Fowler could be forgiven for taking a measured approach. The USGA is watching, after all.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.