CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maybe it was best that Rickie Fowler was paired with Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm in the first two rounds of the 99th PGA Championship. He’s not in their league in terms of distance off the tee, and he wasn’t tempted to keep up.
What he did do was dust both of them on the scorecard en route to a 69-70 start. He’s 3 under on the week and five back of leader Kevin Kisner with just a handful of players between the two. Fowler, who traditionally plays great at Quail Hollow said on Friday that he’s been trying to manage his way around what has turned into the toughest major test of 2017.
“If you look at the majors, this is probably the hardest test we’ve had this year,” said Fowler. “That’s saying something. Birkdale is a pretty special place. I guess some of those conditions we got there was times it played very tough.
“Just as far as golf course standpoint with it firm and the rough up, and the greens drying out and firm, this is — you can’t miss your lines or your numbers by very much and get away with it.”
Fowler’s making The Green Mile look easy with a birdie on 17 ?
— PGA of America (@PGA) August 11, 2017
Fowler hasn’t missed many. Other than a triple bogey on the 5th hole on Thursday, he’s been lights out the other 35 holes. He ranks in the top five in putting so far this week which has been useful considering how tough the course has been and how conservatively Fowler has been playing off the tee.
“With the greens being firmer and faster than normal, that adds up and you can’t really get too aggressive out there,” said Fowler. “I’m not as long as Jon or Rory. Go out and set your game plan in the practice rounds and figure out what you are going to do.
“The golf course has changed quite a bit since Monday, Tuesday and even Wednesday with how dry it’s gotten and how much firmer the greens are, so just thinking how we want to play the golf course. And pars are good. There’s going to be a handful of opportunities where you can get aggressive and make some birdies.”
It makes sense that Fowler would contend (and potentially win) a PGA Championship that’s being played more like a U.S. Open (there are only 17 players under par at the time of this writing) at a course he loves.
“The biggest thing is not giving shots back,” said Fowler. “There’s some holes that I may play back with 3-wood. The biggest thing for me, I’m trying to get the ball in the fairway and take kind of trouble out of play and minimize the mistakes.
“Like I said, you play aggressive when the time is right.
“I have to stay patient. I have to go through the process, make sure we’re making the right decisions each hole, each shot. With the way I’ve been playing, how I’m swinging this week and last week going into it, I know I can win this week. That’s already set. It’s more so in between the ears making sure I make the right decisions and not get ahead of myself. If we do that, it will be all right.”
He’ll be more than all right. If Fowler continues to play like he has been, he’ll find himself in the thick of another hunt for major No. 1 this weekend. There are plenty of other contenders — Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day are all ahead of him — but Fowler’s methodical, conservative effort has him T2 in fewest bogeys made so far. He’ll have to pick his spots on Saturday and Sunday, but he’s going to run into a major win at some point.
It would be fitting to me if it came at a PGA that looks like it’s being hosted by the USGA.