Sunday, March 26, 2017

Despite 4-shot lead, Fowler not counting chickens

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – It’s all about closing now.

Rickie Fowler wanted to be in this position come Saturday night at the Honda Classic, to sleep on the lead and force himself to finish off what he started.

Fowler, 28, may have three PGA Tour titles to his credit, but he’s 0 for 4 trying to close out 54-hole leads on his home tour.

While Fowler couldn’t win Saturday, he looked like he was trying.

With birdies at two of the final three holes, Fowler put up a bogey-free 5-under-par 65 to give himself a four-shot cushion on England’s Tyrrell Hatton (66) and a six-shot lead on a pack of five players that includes two-time major championship winner Martin Kaymer (68).

“I definitely need to put myself in this position more often, which is just going to lead to me winning more often,” Fowler said. “I’m not going to be able to take a 36- or 54-hole lead every time and win, but the more times I put myself there, the more trophies I get to hold on Sunday.”

At 13 under, Fowler has already gone lower than any 54-hole leader since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

Fowler is looking for his first PGA Tour title in 18 months, since he won the Deutsche Bank Championship. He’s looking for his first title anywhere in 13 months, since he won the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Fowler finished up impressively Saturday, wiping away some memories of last year’s third-round troubles. Fowler opened last year’s Honda Classic with a pair of 66s, just as he did this year, but he couldn’t build on it a year ago. He stumbled to a 74 without making a birdie and ended up tying for sixth.


The Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


“I do have a lot of work to do tomorrow, but it’s nice to give myself a four-shot lead,” Fowler said. “That can obviously go away very quickly, too.”

The Bear Trap awaits.

After three days of relatively optimum scoring conditions, the winds are forecast to be up on Sunday. PGA Tour meteorologists are calling for winds between 15-20 mph with gusts up to 28 mph.

If that’s what Sunday delivers, the three holes that make up the Bear Trap (Nos. 15-17) will offer a steep challenge.

That’s why Fowler wanted to get as many shots ahead as he could.

“I wanted 10 or more,” Fowler said. “There’s a lot that can happen. Birdies happen in the Bear Trap, but other numbers do, as well.

“So there can be a big swing there, and I think the biggest goal there tomorrow is if I can hit all three greens in regulation. I think that’s definitely attainable.”

Fowler said his ball striking wasn’t as sharp Saturday, but he’s been in control the whole week. He went to a shorter driver setup this week, replacing his 44½-inch shaft with a 43½-inch shaft. It’s making him straighter but doesn’t seem to be costing him a lot of distance.

Fowler has hit 31 of 42 fairways this week.

At the 18th, he blasted a 340-yard drive. From there, Fowler carved a 7-iron to 20 feet and two-putted for birdie. It was a strong finish.

He makes his home in nearby Jupiter and would relish winning here.

While Fowler’s terrific finish winning The Players two years ago didn’t count as “closing” because he didn’t lead going into the final round, he holds on to those memories. He played the final six holes at TPC Sawgrass in 6 under that year and then won in a playoff.

“I definitely look back on that,” Fowler said.


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