Masters notebook: Fowler, Fleetwood all about winning this week
April 08, 2019
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- April 08, 2019
- Heading into the Masters, Rickie Fowler is eighth in this season’s FedExCup after winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – We are just days away from the 2019 Masters Tournament. Here are some notes and observations from Monday at the Masters.
FedExCup, No. 1's and majors
Since the 2011 Masters – the first major since Tiger Woods’ lengthy stay of 281 weeks atop the world rankings ended the previous fall – there have been 24 major winners. Just one was ranked No. 1 the week of his victory: Rory McIlroy at the 2014 PGA Championship.
Eight other winners were ranked inside the top 5 during that stretch, including McIlroy, who was No. 3 when he won the 2012 PGA. Jordan Spieth was inside the top 5 in each of his three major wins. PGA TOUR Player of the Year Brooks Koepka was ranked No. 4 going into last year’s PGA, the most recent of his three major wins.
Since 1986, when the Official World Golf Ranking was established, just four Masters winners have been No. 1 – Ian Woosnam in 1991, Fred Couples in 1992, and Woods in 2001 and 2002.
Meanwhile, just one reigning FedExCup champ has won a major – Woods, naturally, whose last major victory was the 2008 U.S. Open, the year after he won the inaugural FedExCup. Of the 11 different players to win the FedExCup, eight have won majors in their careers, just not the year after their FedExCup title.
So what does this all mean for Justin Rose, who not only is the reigning FedExCup holder but also just moved back to world No. 1? Well, nothing from his perspective. “I’m not going to take on that story,” he said when asked about the No. 1 struggles at Augusta National.
Given the historical trend, probably a wise decision. – Mike McAllister
Fowler's first major title?
Rickie Fowler may have fallen one stroke short of Patrick Reed at last year’s Masters, but he takes confidence from the close call.
Fowler was seven shots back at the halfway point of last year’s Masters but shot 65-67 on the weekend to put pressure on Reed. Fowler’s weekend total of 132 was lowest in the field by two shots and nearly 10 shots better than the field average.
He birdied four of his final seven holes to post the best finish of his Masters career.
“A lot of confidence was taken from last year,” he said Monday. “I’ve been in similar positions before going into the weekend and either not had the Saturday or not had the Sunday I wanted. I did a good job of obviously putting together a good round on Saturday to put myself in position and fought through a maybe not perfect front nine to allow myself keep moving forward. The way I executed on the back nine Sunday last year was definitely something I pull from, and it was a lot of fun to be in the mix, birdieing 18, to make Patrick earn it a bit. But was just a little bit too far back, and Patrick put together a strong week of golf.”
Fowler has flashed strong form heading into this year’s Masters. He is eighth in this season’s FedExCup after winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his fifth PGA TOUR title. He also finished runner-up to Keith Mitchell at The Honda Classic.
Fowler, who prefers playing the week before a major, finished T17 at the Valero Texas Open last week.
He loves Augusta National because of the creativity it demands. Combine that with his confidence from last year’s finish and he feels like it could add up to his first major title.
“Last year was big, executing that final nine and hitting shots when you're under the gun and in that moment and under all that pressure,” he said. “Compared to four (or) five years ago, yeah, I'm more ready than I've ever been. Not saying that I can sit up here and tell you I'm definitely going to go win, but I like my chances.” – Sean Martin
Rose's stellar record
Justin Rose has a stellar record at the Masters, but the margins are so slim at Augusta National that even the smallest advantage can pay huge dividends.
For Rose, that help comes in the form of his longtime caddie, Mark Fulcher. Fulcher is carrying the bag for the first time this year after having heart surgery. That will be a big help should Rose find himself in contention at Augusta National, something he’s done quite often.
Rose is a two-time runner-up at the Masters. He finished four shots behind Jordan Spieth in 2015, then lost a playoff to Sergio Garcia two years later.
Those are two of Rose’s five top-10s in 13 appearances here. He’s never missed the cut at the Masters and has finished outside the top 25 just twice. His worst finish in the past five Masters is T14.
“Where Fooch is going to earn his money and earn his position on the bag and earn his importance on the team is on Saturday and Sunday,” Rose said. “Basically when emotions start to get more intense and there's more variability from that point of view, that's when I'm going to rely on him more and more,” Rose said. “If I had anybody caddie for me Thursday, Friday, I would probably be in very good shape and be very comfortable. It's when the going gets tough, that's when I think someone who knows you so well and we have so many positive experiences out there under pressure that we can draw on together; that's where Fooch is going to come into his own for me.”
Rose is No. 12 in this season’s FedExCup standings after a victory at the Farmers Insurance Open.
His love affair with Augusta National started immediately. He played his first Masters in 2003. He executed a difficult two-putt on his final hole Friday to make the cut on the number. That was a victory for a 22-year-old.
He held the 36-hole lead the next year but shot 81 in the third round.
“(It) was obviously disappointing but just really taught me a lot about this golf course,” he said. “Gave me such great valuable experience and insights into how to play it, how not to play it and how it can kind of trick you and bully you a little bit at times.
Fifteen years later, Rose arrives at Augusta National as the reigning FedExCup champion and No. 1 player in the world ranking. Improved putting, especially green-reading, is one key reason for his ascension to the top of both metrics. His skill on the greens will undoubtedly come in handy on Augusta National’s slick putting surfaces. – Sean Martin
Fleetwood: ‘Winning is what it’s all about’
Tommy Fleetwood has flirted with winning this year but hasn’t quite gotten it done, with a T5 at THE PLAYERS Championship and T3 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
Both results, he said, were disappointing, and the same could be said for the disparity between his Thursday-Friday scoring average this season (68.17) and Saturday-Sunday average (71.75). But he made no apologies for going for the right-pin at the 17th hole at THE PLAYERS on Sunday, when his ball found the water on the way to a bogey and a T5 finish.
“I was two behind with two to play, and you know, there was only one way I was ever going to get close, and it was to go for it,” Fleetwood said Monday at Augusta. “It didn't come off, but I didn't really think anything of it. And you know, people's reaction was great, really. I don't know why people would expect me to play for the middle of the green if I had a chance of catching Rory.”
In other words, the goal at the THE PLAYERS, like the goal at the Masters at Augusta National, where he will make his third career start, is to win. Fleetwood has a missed cut and a 17th-place finish at the Masters, last year. If he gets in contention this weekend, he said, he will not throttle back.
“Not that golf will ever define me as a person, but I'm never going to look back on my career and say, ‘Oh, I finished third at THE PLAYERS, that was a good week,’” he said. “Or, ‘Oh, I finished top five at the Masters, I made a couple of nice pars on the last to finish top five.' That's probably something I'll never say to my kids or grandkids. That's not something to be that proud of."
“Winning is what it's all about,” he added, “not for anything than to win tournaments and big tournaments, THE PLAYERS or the majors, and you know, I want to win them, not for a financial standpoint of anything. It would just be nice to have on my resumé.” – Cameron Morfit
Bryson and his wedges
After a terrific 11-start stretch that included four wins, three other top-10s and no finish outside the top 20, Bryson DeChambeau’s results have tailed off after the West Coast Swing. His best result was a T-20 at THE PLAYERS Championship, while the other three were T-40 or worse.
In seeking answers, DeChambeau and his team took a hard look at his equipment -- and they may have found the problem going into his second Masters start as a pro.
“I’ve had some disadvantages with a couple of the irons I’ve had for a little bit,” he said. “… I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of tournaments using the equipment that I’ve had so far and it’s been great. By no means is it bad at all, but there’s always that little bit of room for improvement. So we’ve been working quite heavily this past week in trying to figure out some things that could give me an advantage this week.”
DeChambeau didn’t reveal the specific issues, but he alluded to his wedges. Like his regular irons, they utilize one-length shafts, but he’s evidently had some issues trying to dial those in. He currently ranks 105th in Strokes Gained: Around The Green; last year, he ranked 78th.
“We are now starting to understand how shafts truly work, what they do based on the mass of the club and the design of the shaft and how it creates a certain launch condition, which has been super beneficial for us in the one‑length wedges because that's always been something I struggled with,” DeChambeau said. “I've done really well with it but I've struggled in being able to control it as well as a guy like Kevin Na or someone out here that's an incredible wedger.”
But now the problem might be solved. “Based on the stuff we found out last week,” he said, “we have a way to make the wedges in the one‑length set perform just like a variable‑length set.” – Mike McAllister
Mitchell: I was nervous just walking across the range
No first-timer has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but that’s not what Keith Mitchell was thinking about as he walked onto the driving range for the first time Monday.
He was just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
“I've been fortunate enough to attend the tournament before,” said Mitchell, who broke through for his first PGA TOUR win at The Honda Classic and is 19th in the FedExCup. “And to play here in college when I was at the University of Georgia. But it was very different today walking out on the range and being on the other side, and I thought I was prepared for that moment, but I wasn't.
“It just kind of ‑‑ just walking, I was nervous just simply walking across the range,” he continued, “and then I started hitting some putts and some balls and I started feeling better.”
Like so many before him, Mitchell has matured on his own time, a long-hitter who was not a star in college and who had to figure it out on the Web.com Tour. He announced his arrival on the big stage, though, when he held off superstars Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka at The Honda at PGA National last month.
At the Masters, the stage gets even bigger. He estimated that he was a spectator for four or five Masters Tournaments growing up, and played the course four times in college. He also played it once after winning Honda.
“So five times before this week,” he said. “The fifth time was the first time I actually was paying attention to where putts were breaking, where I should lay up to. Before I was just so excited to be on the grounds, I would just hit my shot and go to the next one and just try to soak it all in, and I did a great job of that, but I didn't do a very good job of preparing for the Masters.
“You always want to be here, but it's hard to put yourself in that position if you aren't. When I came a couple weeks ago, it was a totally different ball game stepping off stuff and hitting chips from different areas and realizing how fast some of these putts can be.” – Cameron Morfit
Playing their way in
For the fourth consecutive year, a PGA TOUR winner played his way into Augusta National by winning the event the previous week.
Corey Conners did it on Sunday by winning the Valero Texas Open, which for the first time in tournament history was held the week before the Masters. In the previous three years, all at the Houston Open, the eventual champs were not yet in the Masters field until their victories – Jim Herman in 2016, Russell Henley in 2017 and Ian Poulter last year.
Herman and Henley each missed the cut at their Masters appearances, while Poulter finished T-44. – Mike McAllister