FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – It’s the type of scenario that should catch the attention of any American golf fan.
Two weeks removed from representing the U.S. in the Olympics, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed now find themselves in the final group at The Barclays with another chance to don the red, white and blue at stake. To add a little flavor, the setting happens to be Bethpage Black – a former U.S. Open and future Ryder Cup venue.
Perhaps the only thing missing is a little patriotic face paint.
Sunday’s finale on the Black Course is shaping up like a Ryder Cup primer. Both Reed and Fowler entered the week with their status for Hazeltine somewhat uncertain, but both have more than risen to the occasion in the final week of automatic qualification.
For Fowler, the task was steep. Entering at No. 12 in the standings and with only one top-10 finish in his last nine starts, he needed to find something at the buzzer after a last-ditch detour to the Wyndham Championship didn’t pan out as hoped. But just as he responded when his back was against the wall last year at TPC Sawgrass and this year in Abu Dhabi, Fowler has delivered the goods through 54 holes.
He holds a one-shot lead over Reed, an advantage largely built by a stellar short game. Fowler leads the field this week in scrambling, and despite three trips around one of the most brutish layouts the PGA Tour has to offer, his lone dropped shot stems from a 4-foot putt that horseshoed back in his face during the opening round.
“It’s a little bit of the putter starting to show up a bit. I’ve always been a good putter,” Fowler said after a third-round 68. “To have a few putts go in, to be able to get up and down for par and saving all those shots to keep momentum going, it makes all the difference.”
Fowler has now gone 45 straight holes without a bogey – an impressive feat on your local muni, let alone a major-caliber venue. It puts him in great position for a potential captain’s pick from Davis Love III, but Fowler hopes to make that option a moot point with his play during the final round.
“I think it’s pretty simple. We’ve just got to go take care of business tomorrow,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in this position, but we have a pretty good track record of in the past year or so since the Players win. Looking forward to it.”
For Reed, things weren’t quite as sharp. After starting the day with a two-shot cushion, he struggled to find a groove and bogeyed three of his first six holes. But he managed to keep the round on track, playing his final 12 holes in 2 under to give himself a spot in the tournament’s final pairing alongside Fowler.
“It was one of those days that I hit no fairways,” he said. “Every driver I seemed to hit was in the right rough or right bunkers, and I just felt like I had to hack out of the rough all day.”
Reed entered the week at No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after this week automatically qualifying for Hazeltine. While Fowler still has work to do to punch his ticket, Reed now appears likely to make the team on merit.
Although Reed would relish an opportunity to rekindle some of the Ryder Cup magic of two years ago, his main focus this week is on snapping a victory drought that extends back to the 2015 Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
“I’m ready. I’ve been ready, felt like all year. I need to put four rounds together,” he said. “To only be one back, I feel like I’m in great position. I’m in the final group tomorrow. Go in and put some pressure on Rickie, and hopefully both of us kind of separate ourselves on the back and play some good golf.”
While the tournament is hardly a two-man race on a course as treacherous as Bethpage – especially with former world No. 1 Adam Scott lurking just two shots off the pace – all eyes will be focused on the all-American duo in the anchor pairing.
“We’re going to have some fun,” Fowler said. “I saw him on the putting green before I left the tee since he was playing behind me. Told him to have a good one and let’s go get in the final group tomorrow. We’ve done that, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Fowler and Reed have been playing against each other for more than a decade, dating back to their earliest meetings in junior golf. But more recently, they’ve become two of the more prominent faces of American golf.
They’re bold, they’re confident and they embody the culture change needed to kick-start a U.S. side that's lost six of the last seven Ryder Cups.
While only one can claim the trophy, both men could very well leave New York with updated travel plans to Hazeltine. It should be a memorable battle on an iconic venue, and one whose biggest winner could turn out to be the old red, white and blue.