The world number five will tee off at St Andrews tomorrow having enhanced his prospects and shortened his odds thanks to the American’s come from behind victory on the links at Gullane last Sunday in the Scottish Open.
Following two months on from his Players Championship victory at TPC Sawgrass, the 26-year-old has finally shattered the illusion that for all his talents, he is unable to close a deal. And given his strong Open record of two top-five finishes in five starts, including a tie with Sergio Garcia for second behind Rory McIlroy last year at Hoylake, Fowler looks like he has ticked all the boxes coming into the third major of the year, particularly with McIlroy absent due to injury.
Jordan Spieth remains the hot favourite with the world number one missing and he can usurp the Irishman at the top of the rankings with a victory on the Old Course should he complete the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam. Yet while the 21-year-old Texan also won at the weekend, the Masters and US Open champion did so on the other side of the Atlantic, at the John Deere Classic.
Fowler was in St Andrews already, acclimatising to the change of time zones from the US while Spieth was still locked in a play-off with Tom Gillis in Illinois and the Scottish Open is more than happy with the way he has readied himself for Open battle this week.
“Playing last week at the Scottish Open, I felt like last year was great preparation, had a good finish there, as well, and went on to have a great week at The Open,” Fowler said yesterday.
“This year I wanted to get back over here, get some swings on links golf, ultimately be in contention, and get the juices ready for this week. I think we did a good job of that.
“I had a lot of fun on Sunday with the way I closed and ultimately being able to win the tournament. The game feels very good right now, and I’m very comfortable on links golf, one of my favourite courses, and this is a special venue. I’m really looking forward to the week.” Now Fowler has to get to the next level and join his peers McIlroy and Spieth at the forefront of the game’s new generation of standard bearers.
“I mean, a good start would be to become a major champion, and that’s something that I’ve always dreamed of and have wanted to accomplish,” he said.
“You know, the way obviously Jordan has been playing, amazing golf, and Rory has been doing that for quite some time.
“I do have some work to do. I need to continue winning. I think that’s the biggest thing, and putting myself in positions to win. I can’t worry about them or other players, just got to keep working hard and focus on what I need to do and take care of my business.”
The coming of a new era usually means an end to the old one but despite his slide down the rankings to number 241, Tiger Woods is adamant his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles is still viable.
Returning to the scene of two of his three Open triumphs, Woods, 39, is determined to prove at St Andrews he is not a spent force. The 14-time major winner, seven years removed from the most recent of those victories, believes his troubles are at an end following back surgery a year ago and another remodelling of his swing. The rounds in the 80s and missed cuts earlier this year that prompted doubts over whether he had a future in the game were a byproduct of that swing change, he insisted yesterday and asked whether the chase for Nicklaus’s record was now just a dream, Woods replied: “No, not at all. I’m still young. I’m not 40 yet.
“I know some of you guys think I’m buried and done, but I’m still right here in front of you. Yeah, I love playing. I love competing, and I love playing these events.”
Woods’s season to date does not make for pretty viewing. An 82 in Phoenix at the Waste Management Open led to a missed cut in his first tournament of 2015 and he was forced to withdraw from his second, at Torrey Pines a week later, injury and poor form combining to persuade him to “shut it down” until the Masters in April, where he returned to finish 17th.
The nadir came with an 85 at the Memorial Tournament in May and a first round 80 at Chambers Bay saw him exit the US Open. The tide had turned though and an opening 66 and closing 67 last time out at The Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago has Woods in optimistic mood coming to the Old Course and all the positive memories that summons.
“That was awfully nice to be able to do coming into this week. I’ve hit the ball just as well then in my practice rounds. I hit the ball great at Greenbrier.
“It was the first time I had led proximity to the hole with my iron play in I don’t know how many years. It’s been a while. So that was a very, very good sign. And as bad as I putted that week, I was only four shots out of a play-off.” So while many write him off as yesterday’s man, Woods is far from ready to call it quits.
“Retirement? I don’t have any AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) card yet, so I’m a ways from that.”