DUBLIN, Ohio – Those cool, October-like winds? Overnight temperatures plunging into the high 40s? Daytime wind chills making it feel like 50s?
No problem for Rickie Fowler, who seemingly cannot be cooled off.
On a day when the field average was 74.324 and a dozen scores fell into the dreaded “other” category, the dynamic neon-green popsicle stick merely went about his third-round duties at the Memorial Tournament with the same sort of precision that has dominated the PGA Tour landscape of late.
“Just being patient, staying in the moment. I’m very comfortable with my game,” Fowler said.
Consider it a massive understatement, because Fowler shared low round of the day, a gritty 3-under 69, and vaulted up the leaderboard. By pushing to 5-under 211, Fowler jumped over nine players to settle into third, three behind leader Spencer Levin, with Rory Sabbatini alone in second at 209.
The fact that Fowler will be paired in Sunday’s final round with Tiger Woods, who is at 4 under, will ignite plenty of enthusiasm, but what deserves to carry the spotlight is what Fowler has been putting together.
Namely, a scintillating stretch of golf.
Since missing the cut at the RBC Heritage Classic, Fowler has finished T-10, first, T-2, T-5, and he’s in line for a fifth consecutive top 10. In his last 19 rounds, Fowler has been under par 17 times, level par twice, and he’s an eye-popping 48 under.
Having finished second and T-22 in his two starts at the Memorial, Fowler clearly is comfortable at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Throw in the fact that he twice has made it through a U.S. Open sectional in nearby Columbus and he once lost in a Nationwide Tour playoff at the Ohio State Scarlet Course and you could say he loves this town.
“I’m not sure what it is,” he said.
It probably has a lot to do with a rich skill set that is getting more polished by the day.
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STALLINGS’ PERMANENT SMILE: After cleaning his ball and replacing it some 22-23 feet from the hole at the par-5 11th, Scott Stallings stood up, took a few steps to study the line, then watched as a gust of wind pushed the ball down the slope and toward the hole. It rolled and rolled and rolled and Stallings concedes he nearly “freaked out” when it came to rest perhaps 12 feet from the hole.
Then he turned to see Tiger Woods, his playing competitor, smiling.
“There’s your birdie putt now,” Woods told him, and Stallings needed a few moments to compose himself. But he quickly gathered that the new rule was working to his benefit there; he had not caused the ball to move so there was no penalty.
Asked if thought of calling in a rules official to confirm, Stallings laughed.
“No, I had Tiger Woods. That’s good enough.”
It was one of a thousand smiles flashed on what Stallings figures was a dream come true. He remembers making a hole-in-one as a 12-year-old, then watching Woods dominate the 1997 Masters a few weeks later, at which time Stallings announced to his father that he was giving up all sports for golf.
“He said, ‘But your best round is 75. You’re going to do what?’ “
Disappointed to have doubled the par-5 No. 7 (he slipped on his drive and hit it out-of-bounds) and the par-3 12th, Stallings shot 75 and from one back to start the day, he fell to T-8, six shots off the lead. Yet, he wore that boyish smile and said his first-ever round alongside Woods was everything he had hoped for – including an epic shot that only the icon can hit.
In this case, it was a wedge from deep in the hole of a bunker on the left side of the 17th fairway. Though only an overhead camera could see Woods, he was so buried, Stallings knew he was in there and was ready for what he figured was a splash out.
Then, total shock.
“He hit a wedge over a 20-story building to 10 feet,” Stallings said, shaking his head. So excited was he that Stallings conceded that he nearly pulled out his cell phone to send a tweet. “But I didn’t,” he said, laughing.
Woods shot 73 and at 4-under 212 is in fourth, four off the lead and two ahead of Stallings. But as they walked to the 18th green, Stallings said Woods offered encouragement. “He was pumping me up. He said, ‘Who knows? We may be there together at the end (Sunday),’ “ Stallings said.
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GUESS HE’S FEELING OK: Dustin Johnson doesn’t seem to be bothered by his lengthy layoff.
Having sat out with back pain since mid-March, Johnson eagled the par-4 13th in impressive fashion – a 338-yard drive, a holed wedge from 124 – and he tossed in four other birdies.
That’s the good news.
“My bad shots are really bad,” Johnson said.
When he birdied the par-5 15th, Johnson was 2 under for his round, but more importantly, he was 4 under for the tournament and had visions of possibly getting into contention. Then he finished bogey, bogey, bogey and a once-promising round was in at 73 and Johnson had fallen to T-15, 1 under and seven shots back.
“I’m disappointed at how I finished,” he said, but yet . . . he is encouraged because the back feels good and he’s been swinging it pretty well.
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IN ADDITION TO WAFFLES, CHOCOLATE AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS: How about a round of applause for Belgian golf?
Certainly, Nicolas Colsaerts, just a few weeks removed of his second win on the European PGA Tour, is acquitting himself well here at the Memorial. But shortly after shooting 73 to get through 54 holes at 3 over, Colsaerts wanted to know what the American golf writers knew about his countryman, Thomas Pieters, who won the NCAA individual championship this week at Riviera.
“I’ve never really met him myself, but I know of him,” said Colsaerts, 29, who turned pro when he was 18.
What Colsaerts probably didn’t know is that he and Pieters have more than Belgium in common – namely, Muirfield Village Golf Club.
It was here last year when Pieters, who plays for the University of Illinois, won his first collegiate tournament, and now Colsaerts is at the same venue for just his fourth pro tournament on American soil.
“I’m the only one (from Belgium on the European PGA Tour),” Colsaerts said, “so it’s nice to have company.”
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TWO SHY OF A DOZEN: Camilo Villegas had a most forgettable ending to his round – taking 10 shots to play the par-4 18th. Having hit into a bunker down the right side, Villegas needed two more shots just to get it to the front of the green, but from there it became sort of Tin Cuppish.
Villegas bladed it over the green, then pitched it long and back to the front slope, and he followed that with another blade over the green. Then he knocked it long again and only with his eighth shot was he on the green. Two putts for a 10, and when you factor in the triple bogey that he made at the par-3 16th, it means Villegas went from 1 over on his round to 10 over in just three holes.
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SHORT SHOTS: Brandt Snedeker withdrew before the start of the third round, citing sprained ribs. He had made the cut after rounds of 69-74 and now he seems to be touch-and-go for next week’s tournament in Memphis, in his native Tennessee . . . . . Jim Furyk holed a wedge from 86 yards to eagle the par-5 fifth. Unfortunately, he gave back both shots at the very next hole . . . . . Furyk was among those who staggered to the finish, with bogeys at 16 and 18. Woods also bogeyed 16 and 18, and so did Lucas Glover, while Jonathan Byrd bogeyed 16 and 17, Ernie Els bogeyed 16 and doubled 17, Trevor Immelman closed bogey-bogey and so did Henrik Stenson, and Matt Every finished bogey, bogey, bogey, par to shoot 71 . . . . . The par-4 sixth hole played toughest, with a field average of 4.437. There were six doubles and two “others” at the hole.