DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Rickie Fowler did his part. Now it’s up to the rest of the people chasing him to add some drama to the final 36 holes of the Memorial Tournament.
The 21-year-old rookie took advantage of receptive greens to shoot a 6-under 66 Friday and forge a three-shot lead over Justin Rose through the second round of Jack Nicklaus’ tournament. The former Oklahoma State star’s 36-hole total of 13-under 131 matched the tournament record set by Scott Hoch in 1987.
Fowler didn’t sound like someone who felt out of place in first, either.
“I just feel really comfortable getting out and seeing my name on the top of the leaderboard,” he said. “It’s not making me feel much nerves at all.”
He’s halfway to being the 10th player in his 20s to win on the PGA Tour this season, and the second youngest to Rory McIlroy, who didn’t turn 21 until two days after his win at Quail Hollow.
Fowler made the cut in just four of his nine starts a year ago on the Nationwide Tour, but successfully advanced through Q-school. He’s already had four top-10 finishes this year on the big tour, finishing second at the Phoenix Open while earning more than $1.3 million.
Almost from the outset, he felt as though he belonged.
“With getting some of the starts I did at the (U.S.) Amateur and some tour events, I felt that I could play and compete with these guys,” he said. “So I didn’t really see myself not being in contention. I felt that I could go out and win if I played well, and it’s definitely showed the few times I’ve been in contention. I’ve been able to hang around. Hopefully, the ‘W’ will come soon.”
Fowler, just 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, has played the par 5s in 6 under. He eagled the 15th with a 258-yard 3 wood that ended up 34 feet from the pin, then rolled in the eagle putt.
At 3 under through the day through 14 holes, he picked up three consecutive birdies to pull away.
He said he was “out there trying to put as much space as I could” between himself and the field.
Those pursuing him aren’t surprised by Fowler’s play or that of some of the other young guns – McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and Ryo Ishikawa.
“I know what a great player (Fowler) is,” said Phil Mickelson, who is at 138 and seven shots in Fowler’s rearview mirror after rounds of 67 and 71. “He’s already proven he can do that. The challenge will be for us to go out and try to catch him.”
Rose had a 69 after an opening 65 that tied him for the lead with Fowler and Geoff Ogilvy.
Rose, who turns 30 next month, is married and has a 2-year-old son, but recognizes that 20-somethings are taking over the tour.
“That’s the way golf is going,” he said. “More and more young players are coming through. They’re ready to compete, ready to challenge, week in and week out.”
He said he was looking forward to playing with Fowler.
“I know he’s a cool guy,” he said, referring to Fowler’s flashy clothes, long hair and skateboard attitude. “I’ve chatted with him here and there. I’ve never played with him. I’ve seen the way he plays – pretty fearless.”
Jim Furyk, the 2002 Memorial winner, shot a 67 and was at 135 along with Tim Petrovic, who had a 66.
What happens next will be determined by the guy on top, Furyk said.
“He’s a good young player,” he said of Fowler. “He’ll dictate the rest of the tournament, or at least for tomorrow. If he goes out and plays well, it will be tough to catch him. If he goes and shoots another 6 or 7 under, he’s going to have a huge lead. If he doesn’t, he’ll let some other guys back in the tournament.”
The 71 players who made the cut at 1-over 145 will go off on two tees in threesomes early on Saturday to try to avoid the predicted bad weather. There were two suspensions of play during each of the first two rounds.
Day (69) and Spencer Levin (68) were at 136, with reigning British Open champion Stewart Cink – a perennial contender but never a winner at Muirfield Village – alone at 137 after a 67. Mickelson and Alex Cejka are at 138.
Defending champion Tiger Woods has a lot of ground to make up to add to his total of four Memorial victories. He had trouble with his driver but still mustered a 69 that left him at 141.
Even Woods, suddenly a geezer at 34, is impressed by what he’s seen out of the new wave of kids.
“My group of guys that I competed against – the Ernies (Els), the Phils (Mickelson), the Vijays (Singh), the Gooses (Retief Goosen) – we went at it for over a decade together,” he said. “So it’s just a matter of these (young) guys getting out there. It’s the same group of guys. They’re all about the same age. It will be cool to see the next 10 years, how it all turns out.”