Weekend Winners: 'Grandpa' Fowler banishes 54-hole demons at Honda
PGA Tour: Honda Classic – Rickie Fowler
Before Sunday Fowler was 0-4 with a 54-hole lead so there was more than the odd murmur when he putted into a sprinkler head, then saw his tee shot go splash two holes later and kept finding himself having to recover from pine straw all too often.
But, after reaching the turn in two over, Fowler then found his putting touch at 12 and 13 from distance to give himself a three-shot cushion entering the Bear Trap.
The now four-time PGA Tour winner then parred 15 and sealed the victory pretty much when he hit the most adjacent approach at 16 to leave a three-footer for birdie. The lead was now five after Gary Woodland bogeyed 17.
"Be really good."
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 26, 2017
From there Fowler hit it… into the water. A high block. Into the water. But a pitch to six feet and all was fine again – for the 56th successive time this week he holed from inside seven feet.
A bogey at the last just meant he hadn’t equalled the 72-hole tournament record but that mattered not. The winning margin was four in the end.
Fowler, who at 28 matched the average age of PGA Tour winners so far in the 2016-17 season, is delighted to see players in their 20s playing so well.
“It’s great,” he said. “We’ve talked about it for a few years now, and the game is in a great spot. A lot of young players, a lot of great players playing well, a lot of young players winning,” Fowler said. “It’s fun seeing it. It’s motivating seeing my friends win.”
Justin Thomas, who already has three PGA Tour wins under his belt this season at the age of 23, drove to PGA National to see his friend Fowler see out victory and says they call him “the grandpa of our little group”.
Rickie Fowler pulled away from the pack to claim his fourth TOUR win. pic.twitter.com/jGNLC1oMWK
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 27, 2017
“Grandpa” Fowler’s last win came on the European Tour, at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January last year, a win that saw him propelled into the so-called “Big Four” with Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. But he was forced to watch on as younger players like Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama took their careers to the next level, while Spieth, McIlroy and Day had three wins each in Fowler’s dry spell.
“I still need to put myself in position, be consistent and win some more golf tournaments,” Fowler added. “I just want to play the best that I can and keep pushing myself and ultimately just keep trying to put myself in position to win and start collecting more of these.”
Woodland hit an appalling lay up at the last into water to drop another shot and he tied for second with Morgan Hoffman who shot four rounds in the 60s.
The big mover of the weekend was Jhonattan Vegas who had a hole-in-one at the 15th en route to his 64.
An ace … and a NEW CAR! ?
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 27, 2017
England’s Tyrrell Hatton had played himself into the final pairing with Fowler after rounds of 68-67-66 but the Marlow star was unable to continue that momentum and he hit some very uncharacteristic shots.
But he still came to the 72nd hole with a birdie to tie for second, a par eventually seeing him share fourth, with Vegas, Martin Kaymer and three others, after a 72.
European Tour: Joburg Open – Darren Fichardt
For the eighth time in 11 years a South African posted victory and this time it was Fichardt who came through thanks to a closing birdie.
That pipped Paul Waring of England and Wales’ Stuart Manley and all three will now head to Royal Birkdale for the Open Championship.
The tournament was reduced to 54 holes and Fichardt’s 68 put him at 15 under after Manley had birdied the last two holes. Waring, playing with the champion, had a putt to extend it and it caught a chunk of the hole but stayed out.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 26, 2017
The South African only dropped two shots in his three rounds, the second at the 53rd hole, but a chip and a putt at the last gave him his fifth win on Tour.
NCG columnist James Morrison finished T4 after a 66 which included hitting the flag with his approach to the last and then seeing his 15-footer lip out.
What Fichardt said: “Geez man, it’s good to win again. I’ve been boasting about my putting in interviews and today it just let me down. I couldn’t make a putt but I was glad to see the ball was pretty close on the last.
“The form I have been having the last couple of months has been horrendous but I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to play as many tournaments as I can.I’ve got a new swing thought that I use on my chipping, and it certainly came in useful today. I was surprisingly calm over the one on 18, especially after that bogey on 17, but it certainly proved to me again that the short game and putting is where you score.”
What Waring said: “I’m gutted that putt on the last lipped out, but I’ve got to take the positives out of the week.
“I’m absolutely made up to be going back to Royal Birkdale. I’ve got some great memories from there, I played on the Sunday with (Phil) Mickelson last time so I am more than happy to be going back there.”
What Manley said: “I’m really chuffed to be playing in my first Major, I’m really excited. I’ve been trying for many years through pre-qualifying so to get there I’m pretty pleased.
“The Open is massive and I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into that golf course. I’ve never experienced anything as big as the Open before but I can’t wait for it.”