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Rickie Fowler acknowledges the crowd after holing out on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2017 Hero World Challenge.
By Brian Wacker
Tiger Woods prepped for this week’s Hero World Challenge by playing home games with Rickie Fowler. Doing so proved something of a motivator for Woods in his first start in 10 months after spinal fusion surgery earlier this year.
It turns out that Fowler benefitted from those matches, too.
Sunday, Fowler birdied his first seven holes and eight of his first nine at Albany Resort en route to an 11-under 61. The lowest round shot in his professional career helped Fowler overcome a seven-stroke deficit at the start of the day and turn it into a four-stroke victory over Charley Hoffman. The victory was Fowler’s first since the Honda Classic in March. Woods, meanwhile, finished 10 strokes back.
“Finally just kind of got everything to piece together,” Fowler said.
It didn’t hurt that he was able to lean on the tournament host and 14-time major champion along the way. Playing just once since the Presidents Cup in late September—a runner-up performance at the OHL Classic in Mexico—Fowler said he and Woods teed it up together a handful of times for friendly rounds before Thanksgiving.
“I think he sharpened me up a little bit,” said Fowler, who turns 29 on Dec. 13. “I’ve gotten a little scared of how good he was playing at home, thought I needed to start playing a little bit better or something.”
Though Woods dominated the news all week at Albany it was Fowler who stole the show on Sunday. After going out in 28, Fowler kept the momentum going with a birdie on 11 and another at 13 to extend his lead to three and bring golf’s magic number into the picture.
“I was definitely happy with the way I played the last six holes or so, not really knowing the situation,” Fowler said. “Obviously [I had] a little bit of that 59 thought in there but I wasn’t going to necessarily press for it.”
He made one more birdie, at 15, and played the final three holes in even to coast to victory over Hoffman, who closed with a 72 that made him one of just three players who failed to break par on Sunday.
The victory moved Fowler to No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking and could prove something of a springboard to a possible breakout season in 2018 the way it has for others who have won this end-of-year event. Though Fowler has eight career worldwide wins, he has yet to win a major.
“We only get four chances a year, so there’s four big weeks that we always think about it,” Fowler said. “But I put myself in position to be in contention at majors so we’re just going to keep knocking at the door.”