Sport Golf

Thursday 22 February 2018

Fowler pips McIlroy to break Tour duck

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

William S Callahan

RICKIE FOWLER played two of the greatest shots of his young life to beat his good pal Rory McIlroy and fellow American DA Points in sudden death at Quail Hollow.

The Wells Fargo provided 23-year-old Fowler with the perfect stage upon which to complete his maiden PGA Tour victory and he wrapped it up in style, polishing off a five-foot putt for birdie at the first tie hole.

McIlroy, who celebrated his 23rd birthday last Friday, at least had the consolation of returning to world No 1.

A share of second place with Points, the young Ulsterman's 13th top-five finish in 15 outings since last August's PGA Championship, propelled McIlroy past Luke Donald and back to the top of the world rankings.

Fowler posted a final-round 69, Points shot 71 and McIlroy 70 to tie on 14-under, and each of them played fantastic tee shots down 18 in extra-time, the Irishman hitting a stunning three-wood 339 yards and closest to the green.

But Fowler hit a phenomenal approach to five feet and, after his two opponents made gutsy fours, rolled home the clincher with aplomb. It's only his second victory as a pro, to go with last October's Kolon Korea Open success over McIlroy.

It was clear from an early stage yesterday McIlroy wasn't quite sharp enough to deliver a final round as thrilling as the Sunday 62 which sealed his famous first US Tour victory at Quail Hollow in 2010. In fairness, this classic, tree-lined course played hard and fast and the difficulty was compounded by a series of threatening pin placements.

This was a day in which the maturity and patience of young men like McIlroy and Fowler and the 35-year-old Points would be tested just as severely as their golf game -- and all three were equal to it.

McIlroy and Points, his playing companion yesterday, both opened brightly, posting birdies at the par-three second hole, where the Holywood hero brilliantly holed a 20-footer.

This lifted the American to 14-under and level with overnight leader Webb Simpson, while McIlroy moved to within one. Yet as the galleries rubbed their hands in eager anticipation of the birdie-fest ahead, McIlroy stalled with slipshod bogeys at three and four.

The Irish youngster missed the fairway left and the green right at three before missing from six feet for his par. Then he three-putted from 41 feet at the next.

Yet McIlroy got himself back on track with sublime birdies at seven and eight before rejoining Points at the top with another at the long 10th, set up by the fantastic 242 -yard four-iron he hit from out of the left rough to 16 feet.

Simpson, playing nervously in front of family, friends and neighbours on his home course, had fallen back at this point, even surrendering his PGA Tour record of 220 holes without a three-putt as he made bogey at 11. Up ahead, Fowler, undeterred by three-putt bogeys at two and nine, was making steady progress, claiming the lead on 15-under with birdies at 10 and 12.

McIlroy fell two back with a cringing bogey from mid-fairway at 11, hitting a sand wedge well over the green. Yet another brace of wonderful birdies at 14 and 15 put him back in the lead with Fowler and the ever-steady Points.

Fowler then dropped a shot out of a fairway bunker at 16, the first of that infamous three-hole finishing stretch, the Green Mile. Then McIlroy bogeyed 17 after hitting his tee shot way right of the green at this treacherous par-three.

Clear

So Points was one clear playing the last but his string of 40 successive holes without a bogey would end at 18 after he hit his approach into a greenside bunker.

In contrast with 2010, McIlroy then missed his downhill double-breaker for victory and when they both putted out, a three-way play-off with Fowler was assured. Simpson just missed out by one after a nice back-nine fightback for a closing 73.

If the good people of Charlotte had expected fireworks from McIlroy, it was Lee Westwood, his former management stablemate at ISM, who staged a pyrotechnic display.

A satisfying 66, the low round of the final day, left the Worksop man in a tie for fifth with Ben Curtis and Ryan Moore on 11-under.

Irish Independent

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