Rickie Fowler is arguably the hottest player in the world over the last two months. Heading into the Honda Classic, he finished fifth at Kapalua in January and then lost in a heart-wrenching, emotional playoff against Hideki Matsuyama at the Phoenix Open for runner-up honors. He also won with an extremely strong field at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship in between that time. Well, he’s in contention again going into the weekend.
Fowler shot a second consecutive bogey-free 66 to take the early clubhouse lead on Friday at PGA National — so far, it looks like his lead will probably hold through the end of the day.
“I’m definitely pleased about that,” said Fowler following his round. “I got a nice break on 1 to kind of continue that. But yeah, I kept myself in it with some did up-and-downs, made some good putts, and then continued to move forward. Made a couple birdies coming in, so it was a little bit of a bonus there at the last. Definitely pleased with the way I played the first two days.”
There’s no doubt he’s playing well and with a ton of confidence.
“It was nice to put together a couple good rounds after Phoenix,” he said. “Obviously, I played really well there and played well down the stretch, just didn’t go my way.
“Excited to be back in contention here. With the way I’ve been playing, and how I feel on this golf course, I feel comfortable here putting together some good rounds and good rounds in the past. Looking forward to this weekend.”
What might be giving him some extra swagger is his preparation going into the tournament.
Fowler, who now calls the greater Palm Beach area home, along with a large contingent of his contemporaries, has a plethora of first-rate courses to play and practice. Last week, he clearly continued his hot hand when he broke course records at Medalist, where he’s a member, and the Floridian, posting scores of 66 and 60 last Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
With Medalist, the course has been redesigned, so Fowler broke the record he had previously set, but he was quite proud of his round at the Floridian.
“Yeah, I broke my own there, and yeah, then I went and broke Justin Thomas’s at the Floridian, which is a pretty good accomplishment,” said Fowler with a wry smile.
The previous course record at the Floridian was Thomas’ 62. Fowler let his pal know by texting him this photo:
“I was a little bummed,” said Thomas, smiling. “It sounded like his round was a lot harder than mine was, though. It was howling (for Rickie) and that place is already pretty tough. It was whatever, but when he first sent it to me, I was a little irritated or pissed off. It was fine.”
Fowler credits his practice and prep to the continuation of his strong play.
“Just thinking back about the preparation, and just knowing that I’ve been playing well,” he said. “I’ve played well here at this golf course, living down here for over five years now, I know how to play down here. So I just had to go out there and just kind of stick to what I’ve been doing, trust it, play with confidence.”
He also played 36 holes with Michael Jordan at Medalist on Tuesday.
“It’s a great way to prep because he’s one of the greatest competitors in the world,” Fowler said Wednesday…
“Of course there was something on the line. The juices were flowing. I compare it to the money games on Tuesday with Phil (Mickelson). You have to be on your toes and there is pressure.
“Plus you’re playing with MJ. It can’t get any better than that.”
Perhaps MJ will be in the gallery — or, let’s be real, inside the ropes — during the final round, cheering on his money-game pal.
“Maybe Sunday because it’s his day off,” said Fowler. “He’ll be playing (on Saturday). I don’t know, we’ll see. It would be nice to play well this weekend and we’ll go from there.”
Meanwhile, Garcia, who played alongside Fowler, shot a one-under 69 for a six-under total to trail Fowler by two. Jimmy Walker bettered his first-round 67 by one stroke and fired a four-under 66 to get to seven-under.
On the other end of the spectrum, Rory McIlroy will be missing this weekend. He certainly has a love-hate relationship with PGA National. Luckily, since he lives in the area, he doesn’t have a long commute home. McIlroy posted a second consecutive two-over 72, which included a triple-bogey and double-bogey on the card. He blew past the media on his way to the locker room.
The afternoon wave of players have yet to finish their rounds, so we’ll update if anyone does anything crazy.