Don’t count Rickie Fowler out of the hunt for The Players Championship. The winner in 2015 wants to add yet another to his resume. Moreover, having won here just two years ago, some are considering Fowler one of the favorites this weekend.
“It’s always good to be back here and especially after winning here in 2015. So, yeah, I have seen the whole course now. I played the front nine yesterday, played the back nine today, and probably some of the best conditions I’ve seen here,” Fowler said in his interview session at the Media Center at the Sawgrass Country Club.
“It’s nice to have the greens resurfaced; very consistent, they’re firm out there for sure, and to see some of the subtle changes, a little less movement in a lot of greens, just kind of softening some slopes, allowing for the greens to be firm and fast if they want to get them there and a lot more runoff in chipping areas. So yeah, it will be fun to see how it plays this week, seeing that we’re going to have good weather and they will have full control of the golf course.”
One thing the golfers on the course will also have to deal with is stifling heat. Thursday’s high was expected to reach 99 degrees – which can have an effect on even the most conditioned athlete.
Rickie Fowler acknowledged the difficulties in repeating here. He was not around for the weekend in 2016. Hence, there would not be the first repeat player at The Players Championship. He also said the tournament itself is a hard one to win.
“It’s hard to be out front with the finish; there’s so much that can happen. And no, this is arguably the strongest field in golf, on a golf course that creates a great test, and you got to hit pretty much — you’re going to have to hit every kind of shot around this golf course throughout the week, and that’s what’s great about it. It kind of tests all parts of your game.
“As far as being able to win back-to-back, I wouldn’t put it past Jason. He’s obviously been playing well, and he knows how to win. He’s got the job done plenty of times, and so if he plays well, he can definitely be a guy that’s going to be tough to beat this week.”
Everyone knows Day wants to be the first player to repeat as champion. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, and other golfers have commented on it this week. The new conditions, with changes to the 12th hole, may make it more difficult. It may also force these golfers to change their approach to The Players Championship.
The 28-year-old Fowler has won seven times since turning pro in 2009. The Players Championship by far is his biggest title. It looked as if 2014 would be his breakthrough year. Seeing that he finished tied for second at both the US Open and the Open Championship. He also finished tied for third at the PGA Championship and fifth at The Masters.
The 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year hopes this year at The Players Championship will help reestablish him as a contender at every tournament he enters. Rickie Fowler said he would like to be amongst the top players in the world. In fact, this is something Johnson, McIlroy and Day have all experienced.
“I would love to be in that position, continue to focus on the short-term and smaller goals to ultimately work my way there. But that’s little ways out as far as what’s attainable time wise. It’s not going to happen quickly with what Dustin’s done over the past year or so,” Fowler said.
“I think I saw in Rory’s presser earlier somebody was talking about Dustin’s four or five points out in front of No. 2, which when you talk about points in the World Ranking scheme of things, four and five points is huge. I think JT’s right behind me in World Ranking, we’re separated by .2. So, a full point, let alone four and five full points, is quite a large margin from one to two.”
Rickie Fowler finished the first round of The Players Championship at 2-under for the day, tied for 17th on the leaderboard. He said he was pleased with how the round played out. Especially knowing he was three strokes off the lead when he finished for the day.
“It was good to get off to a good solid start, 4-under through 7 and made a lot of really good swings out there. 11 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens. Just had two holes get away from me. Other than that, it was 16 really good golf holes.
“Definitely pleased with the way I got off to a good start, just on the day as a whole I made a lot of good swings. 2-under, good solid start, no one’s going crazy low or anything like that, so a lot of golf to be played.”