Rickie Fowler is a fan of what he calls the “old-school” manual leaderboards around Augusta National Golf Club. He enjoys checking them out, especially when his name is on them as it was in Friday’s second round of the Masters Tournament.
So he was well aware that the 11-foot birdie putt he had on the 18th green in Friday’s second round was for the outright lead – and a spot in Saturday’s final pairing.
He missed, had to “settle” for 5-under-par 67 and a spot in today’s second-to-last group, at 2:50 p.m. with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters. Fowler and Pieters are at 4-under 140 through 36 holes, along with Sergio Garcia and Charley Hoffman, who are in the final group of the day.
With another strong round Saturday, Fowler could get in that final pairing for the final round.
“I love being in that position where you kind of know exactly where you’re at, whether it’s the matches we have early in the week of practice rounds and you have a putt on the last hole to win; you know, I want to — it’s like having a ball at the end of the game,” said Fowler.
This is the first time the 28-year-old Fowler, who is ranked No. 8 in the world, has been tied or in the lead in a major championship. He finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014, but was never in the lead after one of the rounds.
A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the Honda Classic in late February, Fowler has learned how to handle the weekend pressure. He led at the Honda by four shots going into the final round and won by that same margin.
“On the weekends, I tend to try and walk a little slower, make sure we’re taking our time,” he said. “Because my tendency is to kind of speed up and go a little too quickly. So the more that I can slow down thoughts, my walking, and make sure that I kind of think through everything and not get too quick out there, that’s one of my keys.”
Fowler knows the playing conditions will be different on the weekend compared to the first two rounds. The brutal wind will be gone, leaving the fairways and greens dried out. Drives will go farther, but the greens will be less receptive to approach shots.
“It’s going to be definitely a lot of different golf,” Fowler said. “The greens are drying out. Not brown, but getting that different shade. I think we’re going to see more birdies, some more eagles. So it’s going to be back to something a little bit more normal these next two days.”
A strong start Friday set in motion Fowler’s 67, which was the low round of the day. He was 3-under after three holes, holing out of a greenside bunker on No. 2 for eagle and rolling in a 16-foot birdie putt on No. 3. He also made a 22-footer on the par-4 No. 1 to save par.
“I made a great par putt at No. 1 after I put myself in a tough position,” Fowler said. “To make the four there and hole a bunker shot on No. 2, then make the putt on No. 3 for birdie really kind of gave me a bit of cushion and momentum in the right direction. Playing the first three holes well freed me up.”
He finished with four birdies, an eagle and one bogey, on the par-5 15th when he hit his second shot into the water behind the green.