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Rickie Fowler returns to U.S. Open qualifier, nabs 1st-alternate spot

'No excuses' for Fowler missing U.S. Open
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Rickie Fowler lipped out a 6-foot birdie putt on the final green Monday that would have put him in a playoff for the fourth and final U.S. Open spot in the Jupiter, Florida, qualifier.

In the moments afterward, Fowler had reason to exhale. He was coming off a three-week stretch on Tour and had gotten just four hours of sleep before a hot, humid 36-hole qualifier at The Club at Admirals Cove. He’d “left it all out there” during a second-round 67 that at least gave himself a chance to play in his national championship. And, after a sponsor day in Boston on Tuesday, he was looking forward to a much-needed break with his young family.

“I’ll put the feet up for a few days and relax,” he said.

But his next two weeks might get busier still.

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When Fowler spoke to us, he was in the clubhouse at 2-under 140. He was one shot shy of the established cut line, just like last year, when he ended a streak of 10 consecutive Opens played. He lamented a “few swings that cost me” in his morning round of 73, swings that led to a pair of double bogeys, including on his final hole. He was encouraged by his back-nine rally.  

“A lot of positives to take away,” he said. “Just unfortunate we won’t be playing next week.”

But soon his prospects began to change. The final groups started to struggle as the winds picked up with storms approaching. Play was eventually suspended after 8 p.m. ET because of darkness, with only a few players remaining on the course. And though Fowler wasn’t in line for a qualifying berth, the alternate spots were still up for grabs – he was one of five players who finished at 2 under. If he wanted one of those, he’d need to return in the morning, before boarding his flight to Boston.  

And so, before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Fowler left his South Florida home for a chance to continue his unlikely U.S. Open bid. By the time he arrived his task was already made easier: Two of the contenders had turned down the opportunity, leaving Fowler to battle with longtime Tour veteran Steve Marino and Englishman Tom Lewis. And it was Fowler who emerged victorious, with a birdie on the fourth extra hole, to lock up the first alternate spot.

What that means in the short term is unknown. The USGA does not publicly disclose the priority list, though it’s based on a formula that takes into account the qualifiers’ strength of field. Alternates are updated on their prospects so they can properly prepare.

At least one avenue for entry was closed Tuesday when the USGA announced that players competing in the rival LIV circuit will be allowed to play in next week's Open. Fowler, too, has been linked to the Saudi-backed league, and he’s been transparent about the ongoing negotiations. He maintained that he plans to play the PGA Tour for now, but that he remains “intrigued” by the possibilities of the breakaway league, which begins play Thursday outside London. Despite rampant social-media speculation earlier this week, Fowler reiterated that he has not made any concrete decisions about his future. That will come later.

For now, this much is clear: His chances of playing at Brookline are markedly better than they were about 12 hours ago.

“Seeing some positives,” he said. “We’re starting to move forward, making cuts, consecutive cuts, and that’s a good thing. Baby steps. A lot of good stuff going right now.”

And, potentially, even more coming.