Rickie Fowler reacts after a putt on the 17th green during the second round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Cliff Hawkins
After his disappointing finish at the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club two weeks ago, Rickie Fowler could have sulked or taken a mental holiday or even questioned just how much progress he has truly made in what has been a comeback year.
Instead, he has just kept the comeback theme going. And going.
Fowler hardly even seems fazed by that final-round 75 that spoiled an otherwise impressive week at LACC, one in which he opened with a major championship record 62 (equalled soon after by Xander Schauffele) and held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds of the 123rd U.S. Open before he dropped to T-5. Case in point is his play the last two days at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Thanks to a bounce-back chip-in eagle on the par-five 17th, Fowler carded a seven-under 65 and trails co-leaders Taylor Pendrith and Taylor Moore by a stroke through 36 holes at Detroit Golf Club. Fowler is tied for third with impressive newcomer Ludvig Aberg with a 12-under 132 total. Fowler’s performance comes on the heels of a respectable T-13 showing at the Travelers Championship, where he fired a career-low 60 in the third round.
Since he finished T-13 at The Players in March, Fowler has missed just one cut, that coming at the PGA Championship, while finishing no worse than T-17 in his other eight starts. Last season he missed nine cuts and posted just one top-10 finish and three in the top 25; this year he has missed only two cuts while collecting seven top-10s and 14 top-25s in 19 events.
“I think, obviously, this year there’s been a lot more Thursdays, Fridays where I put myself in a comfortable position going into the weekend,” said the 34-year-old California native, who drew huge galleries playing alongside Joel Dahmen and defending champion Tony Finau. “Yeah, it makes it a lot easier and a lot less stressful on the game to at least be in the mix versus having to go shoot a low one, kind of like what I had to do last week to kind of get up in the mix, even though Keegan [Bradley] was a little too far out.”
Ranked 35th in the world, Fowler won the last of his five PGA Tour titles at the 2019 WM Phoenix Open. Naturally, given his consistency of late, he was asked if he was close to capping his comeback with a victory.
“The biggest thing, we can’t try and press too hard. I definitely know we can win,” he responded. “How I’ve played is some of the best, if not the best, I’ve felt about my game and on the course really, ever. We’ve won a few times, I know we’re capable of doing that. … Continuing to put ourselves in good positions and playing some good golf, we’ll just keep knocking at the door.”
Fluff can’t stay away
Ohio native Kyle Reifers, who for the second week in a row got into the field via Monday qualifying, also made it worth his while for the second straight start, advancing to the weekend after a second-round 69 gave him a 36-hole total of 139.
The 39-year-old veteran also made it worthwhile for his caddie. Reifers has famed veteran Mike “Fluff” Cowan on his bag this week. The 75-year-old looper usually caddies for Jim Furyk, but Furyk, one of eight players to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open, is not in this week’s field at the 43rd U.S. Senior Open in Wisconsin. He withdrew on Monday night without giving a reason.
Golf Channel coverage reported that Furyk told Cowan “to go get a bag for the week,” and he returned to Michigan, where he made his debut as a caddie. Cowan worked his first PGA Tour event at the 1976 Buick Classic and he was on the bag when Peter Jacobsen won the 1980 Buick Classic to mark his contribution to a victory.
Moore’s Murray method
Second-round co-leader Taylor Moore is taking a page out of his playbook from his junior golf days, and the swing key—not that he would know this—is one that actor Bill Murray used to transform himself from a glorified hacker into a decent amateur golfer.
Moore, who won his first tour title at the Valspar Championship, came into the Rocket Mortgage Classic having missed the cut in his last three starts. To remedy his poor ball striking, he decided to start holding his follow-through for an extra second or two. When Murray, the star of “Caddy Shack,” sought to become a respectable player in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he turned to noted instructor Kip Puterbaugh, who among other things advised Murray to hold his finish. Anyone who saw Murray before and after going to Puterbaugh witnessed quite a transformation.
As for Moore, he just revisited a key fundamental from his amateur days.
“I feel like I’ve been a little bit impatient with my golf swing,” Moore said after his second-round 67. “I feel like my golf swing’s been good, but I haven’t necessarily driven the ball great the past few weeks. Really just wanted to hold some finishes, and that’s kind of just always been something for me as a junior golfer all the way through my golf career; that’s kind of brought me back just to hitting better shots, and just kind of staying there until the ball’s finished. That’s something I’ve tried to bring back this week.”
It worked for Murray. It’s working for Moore. No joke.