SANDWICH, England – Links courses are mostly devoid of trees, but an arbor is one reason for Rickie Fowler’s success at the British Open.
He’s in contention at the Open Championship after shooting 68 Saturday at Royal St. George’s. It was his sixth consecutive par-or-better round at the Open, and puts him in contention to make the game’s oldest major his first pro victory.
There’s a tree at the end of the Murrietta Valley Golf Range, where Fowler would take lessons from Barry McDonnell, who passed away earlier this year. Complex swing theories were never the topic of conversation.
“That comes from him and Barry, and those sessions down at the end of the driving range, under the tree. Barry taught him to hit shots, that by creating shots he’ll make his golf swing,” Fowler’s caddie and longtime friend, Joe Skovron, said Saturday.
Fowler, who played half of his round in Saturday’s worst conditions, is at 2-under 208 (70-70-68) and will end the day near the lead.
“I feel like I can hit different shots,” Fowler said. “When I’m given those opportunities, it’s just fun for me.”
Fowler’s imagination has helped him navigate his way around Royal St. George’s, but it was his putter that got him on the leaderboard. He holed an 18-foot par putt on No. 12, then holed birdie putts of 15, 12 and 20 feet on Nos. 13, 15 and 16.
“I’d love for my first win to be a major, and I’d love for it to be here,” he said.
Fowler hasn’t capitalized on past opportunities to win, including in his last start. He shot 74 in the AT&T National’s final round after starting the day tied for the lead. He’s finished second three times in his PGA Tour career, and has lost in playoffs on both the PGA and Nationwide tours.
On the front nine Saturday, Fowler’s hair was so wet that he looked like he’d just stepped out of the shower. A positive attitude helped him have success, though. Skovron watched the Open telecast before Fowler teed off at 12:35 p.m.
“He just saw kind of how (Watson) looked like he was having fun, smiling and embracing the conditions,” Fowler said.
Fowler tweeted before the round: “Well I’ll probably have rain gear on all day…it’s going to be a wet and windy one!! #in4atreat.”
Fowler is 13-under par in six Open rounds since an opening 79 last year at St. Andrews. He rallied to finish 14th there, his best finish in five major appearances as a pro. He got his first taste of links golf when he represented the United States in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.
Said Rory McIlroy, who competed against Fowler at that Walker Cup and played alongside him for the first three rounds this week, “He’s such a natural player and he’s got a lot of feel, so he controls his ball flight very well.”
Fowler arrived in England on the Saturday before tournament week to give himself more time to acclimate to the time change and conditions. Last year, Fowler didn’t get in the Open until the week before. He played that week’s John Deere Classic, then took the charter flight to St. Andrews, not arriving until the Monday of tournament week. The extra time paid off this year. Playing Royal St. George’s last Sunday allowed him to see the course with a south wind, the same wind that blew during the second and third rounds.
Fowler was exempt into this week’s Open by being in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking. He recently fell out of the top 50 after posting just two top 10s in his first 16 starts this season. Fowler finished in the top 25 in three of four starts before the Open, including the AT&T National, though.
“I learned a lot. It was great to be in that position,” Fowler said of the AT&T, where his final-round playing partner, Nick Watney, shot a final-round 66 to win. “You know, it’s good to see what other guys do in the same situation and how they handle themselves.”
Fowler has played the first three rounds alongside McIlroy, the recent U.S. Open champion. With their focus on the task at hand, there hasn’t been much discussion about McIlroy’s impressive victory at Congressional.
“I just asked him if he had a good time, and he said he had fun,” Fowler said with a laugh.
This might be Fowler’s opportunity to have some fun of his own.