LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Chris Stroud is doing his best to make sure Rickie Fowler’s memorable rookie season doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending at Disney World.
Stroud shot a 10-under 62 in the opening round of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Thursday, surging past Fowler by four strokes and taking the clubhouse lead after play was halted because of darkness. Roland Thatcher was three shots off the pace, and four others were tied with Fowler in third.
“No matter what golf course we play, no matter how hard they set it up, no matter how hard the conditions, somebody always shoots 62, 63 or 64,” Stroud said. “It just happens to be me this week.”
The late surge eclipsed an impressive day by Fowler.
The 21-year-old Fowler had eight birdies and two bogeys and showed no signs of jet lag after returning from the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He led for most of the day until Stroud moved atop the leaderboard with 10 birdies before dusk. Fourteen players were still on the course when play was called.
Fowler has been bouncing around the globe with a busy schedule, from Wales to Las Vegas to Asia – among other stops – and then back to Florida on Monday. He was so tired in his only practice round that all he did was hit some range balls for about 30 minutes before heading back to bed.
As luck would have it, he got the day’s first tee time at 6:45 a.m. Then had to wait when fog delayed it an hour.
“It’s been more power naps at night. I don’t think I’ve slept more than four hours straight,” Fowler said. “When you’re flying that much, it definitely feels like I hadn’t touched the club for a week.”
This is a familiar turf for Fowler.
Last year, he had just turned pro out of Oklahoma State and was only one shot off the lead after the first round at Disney. But he plummeted down the leaderboard through the weekend and was never in contention.
This year, Fowler has done everything but win.
He had second-place finishes at the Memorial and Phoenix, has $2.6 million in earnings, is well inside the top 50 in the world ranking, earned a spot on the Ryder Cup team and atoned for his surprising selection with an incredible birdie for an unlikely half-point.
All that’s missing is a trophy.
“Definitely need to get that first win under the belt, get the monkey off my back and go from there,” he said.
There was also another incentive for Fowler to come to Disney.
He is one shot behind Troy Merritt and Aaron Baddeley – who moved into a tie Thursday – for the Kodak Challenge. The contest designates a hole at 30 tournaments and keeps score throughout the year, and the lowest score for those who played at least 18 holes takes home the $1 million prize.
“I figure Rickie or Aaron are going to make birdie, and I’m sure Rickie’s trying his hardest,” Merritt said.
The battle at the bottom of the leaderboard for Tour cards is taking shape.
With Disney being the final tour stop of the season, it’s the last chance for players to move up on the money list and secure their Tour cards for next year. Only the top 125 will have full status next year, but players who finish No. 126-150 on the money list will get conditional status that allows them to enter more than a dozen tournaments.
The scores can often fluctuate the first two days with players swapping between the Magnolia and Palm courses. Only the Magnolia Course is used on the weekend.
But Friday – cut day – is often where the biggest moves are made. All Stroud, who is 119th on the money list, will likely need to do is make the cut. And Thatcher, 179th on the money list, needs to finish alone in at least second place to move in the top 125.
After one round, that’s exactly where he’s at.