By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. --
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. -- Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
I was standing behind the green in 2010 and watched the whole sequence unfold.
Rickie Fowler appeared ready to win his first PGA TOUR event. The 21-year-old rookie could take the final round lead at the par-5 15th hole. A solid drive had left him 231 yards to the hole, just 210 yards to clear the water hazard.
Drama built as Fowler and his caddie Joe Skovron discussed club selection. A rookie about to win his first PGA TOUR event.
Only there was little drama.
Fowler laid up.
The daredevil dirt biker with the flat-bill cap did not challenge the par 5.
He laid up, missed the green with his wedge then one-putted for par, eventually finishing second to Hunter Mahan.
Fowler told me following the round that his game plan was to only attempt to hit that green if he had 5-iron or less. The cup was cut in the front of the green, creating a narrow opening and Fowler reasoned he had a better chance at birdie by laying up instead of attempting to hit the green in two.
It was not a popular decision that day and few bought into his reasoning or strategy.
That should have been our first clue.
Rickie Fowler is an individual.
From the orangesicle shirts and pants, to the motorcycles, to the enthusiasm he brings to the course every day, Fowler is not afraid to be different.
I am still not sure his layup was the correct play but it was a decision not made out of panic or insecurity, it was a sign of maturity and confidence.
When you dress like Rickie does and are blessed with both ability and charisma, you are going to attract attention.
Fowler had the eyes of the golf world glaring at him last Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. He shot 77 in the opening round and was in last place.
He finished sixth.
You think that’s not gutsy?
Rickie Fowler has always chosen the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.
The coliseum: TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course is a wonderful golf course, always attracts a great field and yet the 16th hole dwarfs all other aspects of this tournament. The par 3 is completely enclosed with seating for 20,000. They refer to it as “beers and cheers, booze and boos.” There is the rest of the golf course and then there’s the 16th. I have always thought the 10th hole might be more distracting. It sits directly opposite the 16th green and players frequently back off shots when applause thunders from the nearby stands. The rest of the golf course is quiet and serene, but the 16th hole always lurks in the minds of spectators and players.
Sight line: It takes a little while to adjust to desert golf. The fairways are a bright green with overseeded rye grass but the rough is dormant Bermuda. It is quite a contrast to see the emerald green bordered by the yellow gold and it makes the fairways appear narrow. They’re not. The landing zones are generous but players have to remind themselves of that fact on the tee.
Quick start: Players who begin their rounds on the first hole have the chance for a quick start. The first and second greens are approached with wedges and the third hole is a reachable par 5. Watch the difference in scoring for players that start on the back nine. The 10th is a tricky dogleg, the 11th is one of the tougher par 4s on the course and the 12th is a difficult par 3. TPC Scottsdale tests a player’s mental toughness when beginning the round at the 10th.
Weather: There is always the danger of frost delays in Scottsdale. The course sits in a bowl and even when surrounding areas have an overnight low in the 40s, TPC Scottsdale bottoms out in the 30s. Greens can be difficult to judge in the early morning because of the cold temperatures. The forecast calls for overnight lows in 40s with afternoon highs in the upper 60s.
Winner, winner: Rickie Fowler showed me a lot last week in his rally to finish sixth. I think that momentum and confidence travels with him from San Diego to Scottsdale. He’s had great success in this tournament, even as an amateur, and should be primed for a good week.
On the season: My pick of Nick Watney finished fourth at the Farmers Insurance Open. For the season, I have one win (Dustin Johnson), one top 10, one top 25 and one top 50.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.