By John Huggan
There was something eerily familiar about the opening rounds Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy played on the first day of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at a breezy Dundonald Links. While the American nipped around the premises in a tidy five-under 67 that did not involve one dropped shot, the Northern Irishman struggled to a disappointing 74 that included three bogeys and a double bogey.
All of which bore a remarkable resemblance to the third round of the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges. In weather even more challenging than the pair faced Thursday on the Ayrshire coast, Fowler showed his friend and rival an equally clean pair of heels—68 to 74 the margin of victory that day. Clearly, the love affair between the Southern Californian lad and golf by the seaside has long-established roots, stretching back as far as the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland and the 2008 Palmer Cup at Glasgow Gailes, which sits just a few miles down the road from Dundonald.
Not surprisingly, Fowler and McIlroy were a contrast in moods at the end of their day on the links. The latter left without a word on a round that saw him four over par after only four holes, the result of a catalogue of poor wedge play that involved trips to both sand and water. Fowler had more to say, albeit his responses to any and all questions rarely travelled far from the middle of the fairway.
“It’s fun to go out on links and hit shots that don’t necessarily have to be spot-on,” he said. “It’s about managing the game, hitting shots, working your way around the course, putting yourself in the right position and avoiding bunkers. I felt like I did a good job of today. I stayed on the right side of the hole and made a couple of birdies. It’s always nice to have a clean card.”
Pressed on just why he has such an obvious propensity for performing well in conditions hardly familiar to his home ground, Fowler didn’t get into specifics.
“I just love hitting the shots,” said the 2014 Scottish Open champion. “I like to manufacture shots and work my way around. The biggest thing is avoiding the fairway bunkers. They are much more of a penalty over here. It’s fun to play the game more on the ground than in the air. I get aggressive at times, but a little bit defensive, too, when trouble comes into play. That’s always been my strategy over here.”
Let’s try again.
“Rickie, was there a shot or a round back in the day when you realised how much you enjoyed links golf and were well-suited to it?”
“I’ve always loved it, being here at the Home of Golf and being able to hit a number of different shots,” he said. “It’s nice to show off my ball-striking. Seeing pictures and watching links golf on television showed me how it is played. I knew it was something I was going to enjoy when I eventually got over here.”
OK, so maybe there’s no Eureka moment for Fowler when he became smitten with links golf. Bottom line: He sure seems awfully comfortable with it.