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Clutch close at Masters proved Fowler can win majors

By Will GrayJune 13, 2018, 6:14 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Over the first three days of U.S. Open week, USGA officials escorted 11 different professionals to the media center at Shinnecock Hills for pre-tournament interviews. Ten of them have won majors.

The outlier was Rickie Fowler.

Fowler boasts a decorated resumé, and his fan appeal extends beyond perhaps all of the other 10 players outside of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. But the glaring hole in his credentials lingers, and it’s the reason why he’s still fielding questions that Justin Rose, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson all stopped answering years ago.

So the attention once again focuses on one of the game’s most visible stars with a simple query in play: is this finally the week that Fowler takes center stage after serving a supporting role in so many other recent major celebrations?

Whatever expectations exist for Fowler to earn a breakthrough victory, whatever grip he has on the unenviable title of best player still without a major, were heightened and strengthened by his runner-up performance at the Masters. Not all close calls measure the same, but Fowler’s steely glare coming down the stretch at Augusta National, and his nearly flawless shot-making with the pressure at its peak, were notable even though he came up one shot short of Patrick Reed.

“I left there knowing that I could go win a major championship,” Fowler said. “It was just fun to actually step up and execute. That kind of solidified and validated my actual belief of what I can go do.”

That same belief is quite prevalent among Fowler’s peers, who by and large hold his prospects in high regard. Rory McIlroy was responsible for one of Fowler’s most notable near-misses, edging him out in the gloaming four years ago at Valhalla, and he didn’t hesitate to submit a projection that Fowler will eventually win majors – plural.

“There’s so much more to winning a golf tournament than just playing well. Your timing has to be right. Things have to happen at the right time,” McIlroy said. “The more times Rickie puts himself in position, the better his chances are of winning one. But I think everyone in this room would be really surprised if he wasn’t to go on and win at least more than one major in his career.”

Still months shy of his 30th birthday, Fowler hasn’t lacked for chances. He has already racked up eight top-5 finishes in majors, the fourth-most ever among players without a win and only three behind Lee Westwood on a list that amounts to a backhanded compliment. Seven of those results have come over the last 17 majors, starting with his clean sweep of close calls in 2014 and culminating with his most recent runner-up in Augusta.


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Knowing that the inevitable questions are still heading his way, Fowler fields them with aplomb. He notes that time is on his side, given that Phil Mickelson won all five majors after turning 34, and he cites his 2015 Players Championship victory as an instance where he “basically won a major.”

But the heat of the spotlight is undeniable. Fowler is largely viewed as the best player still in search of a maiden major, and barring a win or a significant run from the likes of Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama, he’ll continue to bear that burden every time he tees it up in the four biggest events.

It likely wasn’t by design, but there’s some symmetry in the joint decision by Fowler and Mickelson to head off-property for their practice Tuesday, eschewing the tournament circus for a round together at Friar’s Head far from any camera lens or microphone.

Mickelson is trying to shake things up to somehow snag the title that has eluded him the most. Fowler is doing so in an effort to snag, well, any of them.

“We all know I’m good enough to win. I know I’m good enough to win,” Fowler said. “Being prepared and making it happen that specific week, there’s been a few guys that have been very good at that – Jack, Tiger. Phil didn’t get his first for a while, so there’s still hope. I’m not too worried about it.”

It’s a similar attitude to the one he offered a year ago at Erin Hills, when he grabbed the early lead with an opening-round 65 and contended deep into the final round. But amid the sprawling Wisconsin landscape, as has been the case so many times before, he couldn’t come up with the necessary shots while another player stepped up at the exact right moment.

He returns to the U.S. Open a year older, perhaps a little wiser and with a newly-minted fiancée by his side. He also has fresh in his mind the memories of the latest instance where major glory extended just beyond his grasp, and he’s keen to ensure that this is the last time he has to answer questions about when it will finally happen.

“We’ll get it done,” he said. “And once we get our first, it’s definitely not going to be the last.”

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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.


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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, '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."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."