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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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Watch: Koepka nearly aces par-3 13th Sunday

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 4:24 am

Just when it looked like he was facing a legitimate challenge Sunday, Brooks Koepka responded with a near-ace.

Up four to start the final round, Koepka saw his lead disappear as Gary Woodland raced up the leaderboard to tie him at 13 under and then 14 under.

Unfazed, the three-time major winner birdied the par-5 12th to regain his outright lead and then followed up with this tee shot at the 218-yard, par-3 13th.

And just like that, the tap-in birdie put Koepka back ahead by two with five to play.

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Haas nearly shoots age in taking Champions playoff opener lead

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 10:05 pm

RICHMOND, Va.  -- Jay Haas shot a 7-under 65 - missing his age by a stroke - to take a two-shot lead Saturday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Trying to become the oldest winner in tour history, the 64-year-old Haas birdied the par-5 16th and 18th holes to get to 11-under 133 on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''I've been out here too long to know that I can learn to expect anything,'' Haas said. ''While I'm hopeful every day and I've been playing OK, the last couple weeks have not been very good, but this week has been much better. I love this golf course and it looks good to my eye. Most of the holes look like I'm going to hit a good shot, so I enjoy playing here.''

Mike Fetchick set the age record of 63 years to the day in the 1985 Hilton Head event. Haas is second on the list, taking the 2016 Toshiba Classic at 62 years, 10 months, 7 days for his 18th senior title.

''That's a good way to say I'm old, 'experience,''' Haas said. ''I think I'm very nervous most of the time when I play and today was no exception, but I continued to hit good shots and, hopefully, I can put one foot in front of the other, one shot at a time, do what I tell my son to do every time, you know? See if I can put some of those adages to work tomorrow.''


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


Stephen Ames and Scott Dunlap were tied for second after the round that started in light rain. Ames had a 67, and Dunlap shot 68.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer had a 66 to join Billy Mayfair (67) and Woody Austin (68) at 9 under. Langer won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the season points lead. The 61-year-old German star has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, was tied for 23rd at 4 under after a 71.

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Sergio leads by 4 entering final round at Valderrama

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 9:26 pm

Sergio Garcia closed with three straight birdies to shoot a 7-under 64 on Saturday, taking a four-shot lead into the third and final round of the Andalusia Valderrama Masters.

The tournament, which Garcia has won  twice (2017, 2011), was reduced to 54 holes because of numerous weather-related delays.

With his bogey-free round, Garcia moved to 10 under, four shots clear of Englishman Ashley Chesters, who shot a 1-under 70.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


"Hopefully we'll be able to play well tomorrow and get another win at Valderrama," Garcia said. "Hopefully I can finish it in style."

Chesters, however, is conceding nothing. "There's always a chance," he said. "There's not a lot of pressure on me."

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''


Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai


Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.