Saturday, 16 July 2011

Fowler in Bloom

Watching the Open on the BBC this week has been an illuminating experience, for all the current noises being made by the European tour of having the best players - and pleasingly Darren Clarke, Miguel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn were flying the flag searching for their first major, along with PGA champion Martin Kaymer - but the most interesting thing to witness has been the play of the American tour, and how they dominate the huge leaderboards at Sandwich this week.

Every time the Open comes round, it is hoped that a homegrown Brit will win the Claret Jug, yet it seems more and more likely that again we will go without.  Following the world 1 and 2 missing the cut along with luminaries like McDowell, Poulter and Harrington.  The hopes rest with Darren Clarke, the only Irishman to not win a major it seems and his start on Saturday's round with a two shot lead was good, but you fear he may blow up and cannot sustain the challenge due to a mental block or a question of stamina.

But going back to the presence of Americans on the leaderboard - 2009 US Open champ Lucas Glover, now sporting a 1909 beard along with Chad Campbell, Dustin Johnson, Davis Love III and Tom Lehman are all there, all well known along with lesser lights Webb Simpson, K Stanley and Jeff Overton, as well as the perenial nearly man Phil Mickleson.

However, due to the luck of the draw the eyes of the world's golf media have had to follow the game of Rickie Fowler.  I say luck of the draw as he has played all three rounds with the flavour of the month, Rory McIlroy - expectations were that McIlroy will add this homegrown Open to the procession at Congressional last month.  And that Fowler would wilt under the pressure.  It could not be more different.

Whilst McIlroy has been erratic, up and down and looking at a +5 finish after three rounds; Fowler has blown me away with his maturity and application on this famous links course.  On Saturday, playing in the worst of the weather, were a round of 74 would be considered par on a par 70 due to high winds and heavy rain.  Fowler surprised us with his invention and general demeanour.

There has always been the theory that Fowler (a 20 year old, 2nd year Pro) who has not won on the PGA tour as yet, would not have the imagination to play a links course, where humps and ridges change your shot pattern, but Fowler is proving to be a shot maker.  After two par rounds on Thursday and Friday, Fowler definitely saw Saturday as moving day, at only four shots off the joint lead held by Clarke and Glover, any player at Par or one over would consider they had a chance to win come Sunday, if Saturday was not a complete disaster. 

And as Tom Watson showed earlier on Saturday, if you apply yourself a good round can be had - a 74 from the 61 year old, left him at +4 .

In contrast, the play of McIlroy was distinct.  The 2011 US Open champion's driving let him down, wide right , wide left playing from wet rough leaving no control of the ball, whilst Fowler was accurate off the tee and having birdie opportunites which he gobbled up at the 15th and 16th, whilst McIlroy's putting (vital at Congressional) has let him down. Fowler has managed the course as well as the conditions, he has not looked ruffled by proceedings and in hindsight his round on 16th July, could be considered one of the great rounds in Open history.

And let us not be surprised by the presence of an American winner on a Links course - the names on the Claret Jug of the last 20 years include, Mark O'Meara, Justin Leonard, Tom Lehman, Todd Hamilton, David Duval and Ben Curtis.  All not great names, but nevertheless like Fowler showed the need to adapt to a situation and make the best of bad situations, and in that great American tradition show a bit of bravado when the going gets tough and to back your own ability.

Tiger may be out of the picture, but as Davis Love III plays alongside many of his team for the 2012 Ryder Cup he must be happy with the shift towards a team who will be gung-ho and firing on all cylinders.

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