By John Huggan
ABERDEEN, Scotland — More and more it would seem, Rickie Fowler is a man for the big - or biggest - occasions. Third in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year, the 25-year old Californian was T-5 at the Masters and T-2 at last month’s U.S. Open. And, while he likely isn’t going to win the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open tomorrow, Fowler has done much to enhance his already substantial reputation with the quality of his play over Royal Aberdeen’s Balgownie links.
(Getty Images photo)
Most impressively, the man who finished T-3 in rough weather at Royal St. Georges in the 2011 Open Championship has so far played the fearsome back-nine here in a collective one-under par. While so many of the field has struggled into the wind, Fowler has flourished. All of which augurs well for next week, when the oldest of the four major championships returns to Hoylake for the first time since 2006.
“What was nice today was that I finally took advantage of the par-5s,” said Fowler after completing a third round of 68 for an aggregate of 210, three-under par for the tournament. “I’m looking for a good round tomorrow. This course is a great test for next week. There are so many options and it is so much fun to work your way around.”
It is clear by those brief quotes that Fowler “gets” golf and all its infinite nuances and eccentricities. Ever since representing the United States in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland - one of the world’s finest links - he has been a fan. And, given his fine play over a stretch of holes that have played havoc with so many of the game’s best over the last three days, he has figured things out pretty well over the last seven years.
“On the first day the back-nine was downwind and I actually struggled a little bit with that,” he admitted. “But overall I have played it well. I’ve controlled the ball nicely and kept away from the big numbers. Sometimes, you just have to accept a bogey and move on.
“I just love links golf, especially hitting shots back into the wind. Downwind is fun, but playing the opposite way is better. You have to hit the ball in the middle of face and control the flight of the ball. That’s not quite the norm on tour. We play in windy conditions obviously - and the greens are firm on the PGA Tour - but the air over here is heavier and affects the ball a lot more.
“I don’t know if that adds up to a harder question than we see most weeks, but I enjoy the challenge of it. I’ll definitely be back for more.”
As for the debate over whether four rounds here in tough conditions - the weather forecast calls for rain on the final day - constitutes an appropriate preparation for a major championship on a big and maybe even more difficult course, Fowler has no doubts about his choice.
“I played for three weeks before the U.S. Open and managed to finish second there,” he pointed out. “So I don’t think it is asking too much of myself to play here. I feel like this is a good way to find out where I’m at heading into Hoylake. I’ve been able to see the areas of the game I need to work on, my long irons off the tee for example.”
And, it must be said, hugely entertained the watching galleries with some super shot making. As they say over here, “Haste ye back” (come back soon) young Fowler.