Tuesday 12 December 2017

Fowler adds substance to style to land 'big one'

USA's Rickie Fowler celebrates with the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo: Reuters / Paul Childs
USA's Rickie Fowler celebrates with the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo: Reuters / Paul Childs

Kevin Garside IN ABU DHABI

Shorts remain taboo on the golfing catwalk, but not, it seems, trousers with elasticated bottoms and ankle boots.

There was some symbolism then in Rickie Fowler's impressive victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the gauche choice of footwear to match those absurd pants. 'Hightops' is the colloquial term.

Fowler resisted a late charge from Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Thomas Pieters to claim a fourth win since May and sixth in total. The result sees him leapfrog Stenson to fourth in the world rankings. Still think he is overrated, all you doubters out there?


"This was a big one," said the American (pictured). "It makes it extra special to win here with the field we've had - not just Rory and Jordan (Spieth). This is a step in the right direction.

"To come back and work on getting back in the winner's circle after a successful season and keep moving forward is pretty cool. It was a bit stressful at times and nice to come out on top."

After struggling to find second gear, McIlroy steamrolled the back nine with four birdies and a closing eagle to join Stenson in the clubhouse lead at 14 under par.

With Fowler just one ahead and in an awkward spot in the fringe by the 17th green he showed what a substantial figure he has become, chipping in under pressure for the birdie that would insure against the charge of Belgian playing partner Pieters, who birdied the last to claim second outright on 15 under.

Earlier in the round, when Fowler needed to show bottle following a double bogey at the seventh, he holed from the bunker at the eighth for an eagle, immediately slamming shut the opening that his rivals thought was there.

Fowler had been very much the third wheel in the Hollywood three-ball alongside McIlroy and Spieth in the first round on Thursday. While McIlroy blazed away for a 66 and Spieth a 68, Fowler limped along to a modest 70. But thereafter he bossed the show.

Spieth delivered perhaps his worst sequence of holes in 18 months on Friday and over an 18-hole stretch yesterday, across the back nine of his unfinished third round and outward nine of his fourth, McIlroy floundered on one over par.

He might have won the event by half a dozen had he holed anything like a putt - a point made by pundit Mark Roe, who estimated that 10 strokes went on the greens.

It was McIlroy's first outing for eight weeks, so some leniency is permitted, but this is an area of vulnerability in McIlroy's game that refuses to go away.

Fowler's putting stroke is as pure as they come, and now that Butch Harmon has tweaked his long game, he is a potent threat.

"Not quite what I wanted," McIlroy said. "I missed a lot of opportunities out there this week so it's a story of what could have been. I needed to do something today.


"I didn't hit a fairway until the ninth hole. Something clicked on the back nine and got me a little closer to the lead but I left myself a little bit too much to do."

Spieth showed his character with four birdies over his closing seven holes. From drifting out to two under par at one stage on Friday, he rallied to close in a tie for fifth place on 11 under par but admitted afterwards that he was "beat up, mentally and physically," having played in South Korea, China, Australia, Bahamas, Hawaii and now Abu Dhabi since October.

"I was pleased with that," he said. "I didn't give myself any chances in the first couple of rounds.

"But I finished with four birdies in the last seven holes to carry some momentu­m forward. But I'm very tired. I'm not 100pc right." (© Independent News Service)

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