PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Notes and observations from Saturday’s third round of The Honda Classic, where Rickie Fowler leads by four shots. For more from PGA National, check out the Daily Wrap-up.
FOWLER FLYING HIGH
History didn’t repeat itself for Rickie Fowler at The Honda Classic.
This was the second consecutive year that he started the tournament with back-to-back 66s. Fowler’s Saturday score was nine strokes better than last year’s, though.
Fowler, who started the third round a stroke off the lead, shot a bogey-free 65 on Saturday at PGA National’s Champion Course. At 13-under 197, he holds a four-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton.
Fowler is seeking his first PGA TOUR win since the 2015 Dell Technologies Championship. His most recent victory came 11 months ago at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship.
“Last year wasn’t great individually,” said Fowler, winner of the 2015 PLAYERS Championship. “I would have liked to have been in contention a lot more. … But it was an awesome year, being able to make the memories that we did with the team events, from the Olympics to the Ryder Cup, and finally getting a win there, to Jimmy (Walker) and I getting to go down to Australia and playing the World Cup.
“I definitely need to put myself in this position more often, which is just going to lead to me winning more often.”
He held the 36-hole lead at last year’s Honda Classic before fading to sixth place by shooting 74-71 on the weekend.
Fowler, who has six worldwide wins, including three on the PGA TOUR, was able to poke fun at his victory drought, and the criticism it elicits on social media, in his post-round press conference. He lives in nearby Jupiter, and when he was asked what it would mean to win this trophy, he replied, “It would join a small collection.”
Fowler, who’s 58th in the FedExCup standings, is projected to jump to ninth with a victory.“That’s golf. You’re always kind of trying to go back and forth and just be in that happy-medium spot.”
It’s imperative to hit fairways at penal PGA National, and a new driver has helped Fowler do that. He put a 43 1/2-inch driver in his bag this week – one inch shorter than his previous one – and ranks eighth in driving accuracy (31 of 42 fairways).
Fowler also is playing a left-to-right ball-flight, which helps him better control his tee shots. He was hitting a draw until recently to try to fix a fault in his swing; the club was too steep in his transition to the downswing.
Now that Fowler has fixed that, he can return to the fade.
“That’s golf. You’re always kind of trying to go back and forth and just be in that happy-medium spot,” Fowler said.
Walker, who paired with Fowler at the Ryder Cup and World Cup, has used a similar-length driver in 2017. Fowler was at Butch Harmon’s Las Vegas academy in December when Walker was first hitting the club. Fowler made the change in his two-week break between the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he finished fourth, and this week.
“It feels great. It’s been good so far,” Fowler said. “I don’t know if it’s perfect. I don’t know if it’s the last driver I’m going to play, or we’re going to do some more testing and see where we can go with it, but it’s definitely been nice this week.”
HATTON COMING IN HOT
Hatton, a 25-year-old Englishman, is making just his third start in a PGA TOUR event other than the majors and World Golf Championships.
He has a chance to pick up the victory, though he’ll need to overcome Fowler’s four-shot lead.
“My game didn't feel that great on Monday,” Hatton said. “Felt like I had never swung a golf club before. I'm really happy with the position I'm in.”
If his name sounds unfamiliar, it may be because of how rapidly he’s rocketed up the Official World Golf Ranking. One year ago, Hatton was 107th in the world ranking. He’s now ranked 18th after finishing in the top 10 in two majors and earning his first European Tour victory.
Hatton and Fowler also played together in the third round of last year’s Open Championship. Hatton beat him, 71-76, en route to a fifth-place finish at Royal Troon.
“He dusted me that day,” Fowler said.
Hatton ranks 12th in strokes gained: off-the-tee this week and fifth in strokes gained: putting.
OVERCOMING THE BEAR TRAP
PGA National’s finishing stretch draws most of the attention. “The Bear Trap,” the three-hole stretch that includes two par-3s protected by water, is followed by the reachable par-5 18th where pursuers can finish their round with an eagle.
Fortunes can change rapidly as water comes into play on the final four holes, including the par-3 15th and 17th holes. Fowler has played “The Bear Trap” in 2 under par this week, though, making three birdies and just a single bogey.
He still knows that a large lead is nice before confronting the Champion Course’s closing challenge.
“I’d like to have 10, or more,” Fowler joked about his lead. “There’s a lot that can happen because you can hit a good shot and you can make birdies. … Birdies happen in ‘The Bear Trap,’ but other numbers do, as well.
“There can be a big swing there, and I think the biggest plan or the biggest goal there tomorrow is, if I can hit all three greens in regulation, I’m a happy camper.”
CALL OF THE DAY
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Rickie Fowler's breaking birdie is the Shot of the Day
BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Rickie Fowler's driving was superb on Saturday. 👌🏻— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 25, 2017
Driving Distance: 325.2.
SG Off the Tee: 1.846.
SCORE: 65. ⛳️ pic.twitter.com/SD0Nl0NzsF