Fowler blitzes Mickelson, plus more match play thoughts and picks

Fowler blitzes Mickelson, plus more match play thoughts and picks

Rickie Fowler, left, beat Phil Mickelson, 6 and 5.
Darren Carroll/SI

MARANA, Ariz. — Please update your urban dictionaries. The new definition of “hot pink” is Rickie Fowler.

Wearing matching hot pink shoes, shirt and hat, Fowler left Phil Mickelson feeling blue with a red face after a 6-and-5 drubbing Thursday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

That was the pink part. For hot, how about five birdies and two eagles in 13 holes? It added up to a stunning victory over last year’s Masters champion in what was the tournament’s marquee pairing of the day.

“Rickie played some good golf today,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t have my ‘A’ game today. He sure did.”

Fowler made the hot part look as easy as color-coordinating his outfit.

Naturally, he took the usual amount of grief for that. Mickelson told him that his daughter has a pair of shoes that same color — she wears them to dance class. Fowler is used to comments about his colorful wardrobe. Asked if he had enough color combinations to last six rounds in case he makes it to the final this week, Fowler laughed and answered, “The hotel has laundry service — not a problem.”

Wait, Rickie — you might serve up a rerun this weekend?

“No,” he said, laughing some more, “no reruns.”

The match got out of hand when Mickelson put his second shot into the desert at the ninth and lost the hole. Then Fowler chipped in for birdie to win the 10th; hit 4-iron to 15 feet and made the eagle putt to win the 11th; then hit another 4-iron stiff to inside two feet for an eagle that Mickelson conceded at the 13th.

It was obvious that Fowler played great. It was even more obvious after Fowler kicked off his session with reporters by admitting, with a sly grin, “I played great.”

If this was a stroke play event, Fowler’s round — estimated at 8 under par through 13 holes since he didn’t have to putt out at the ninth — would stamp him as the leading contender this week.

But it’s match play, so Thursday’s heroics are wiped out. Friday is a clean slate, and Fowler will start again, this time matched against Matt Kuchar. He is two wins closer to the title, however, and Fowler proved at the Ryder Cup that he excels at match play.

“For the most part in match play, anyone can win this tournament once they’re in it,” Fowler said. “If you’re in the top 64, you’ve got a shot. You’ve just got to beat six guys. It’s not like trying to beat 156 guys in the field in stroke play. So it’s pretty cool.”

In one other bit of semi-related loose trivia, Mickelson would have passed Tiger Woods in the Official World Golf Rankings if he’d won Thursday’s match. That loss extended Mickelson’s long string of missed chances to pass Woods in the ranking.

“Rickie is going to do a lot for American golf,” Mickelson said of his Ryder Cup teammate.

Maybe this weekend, as a matter of fact.

Here are other assorted observations, plus more foolish picks for Friday’s matches:

• Not to say I told you so but, well, I did. I picked Ben Crane over Rory McIlroy, but come on — who expected Crane to rout young Rory by an 8-and-7 margin? It’s tough to beat a good putter in match play, especially if the course isn’t set up to be very difficult, as the Ritz-Carlton track here isn’t (but could be). Crane had four birdies in 11 holes, by the way, and didn’t even have to finish the 11th when McIlroy conceded the match in the fairway after he’d driven into the desert.

• The youngest guy in the field is still in the field. That’s Italy’s Matteo Manassero, 17, who birdied the 17th hole to go 1 up over Charl Schwartzel, then halved the 18th with pars to advance to the sweet 16. Seventeen almost makes Fowler seem old. “Yeah, I’ve got him by five years,” Fowler said of Manassero.

• The last man in the field, late-arriving J.B. Holmes, carried on by carving out a tough 1-up victory over Ernie Els. Holmes had flown home to Orlando from Los Angeles Sunday night, then flew to Tucson Tuesday after learning that Tim Clark had withdrawn.

• Now who’s No. 1? It’s still Lee Westwood until further notice, but he was eliminated by Nick Watney in a match that went all 18. Westwood missed a short putt to square the match at 16, then dodged a bullet when Watney missed a shorter one to win the match at the 17th. Earlier in the week, Westwood had joked that he wondered what Friday was like at the Match Play. He can still find out, but he’ll have to buy a ticket.

Friday’s Picks:

Martin Kaymer vs. Hunter Mahan. Mahan birdied three of the last five holes, but he still needed Robert Karlsson’s putting mishaps to advance. Kaymer played a superlative match with Justin Rose that went 20 holes before Kaymer’s sweet bunker shot trickled down for a tap-in birdie. Rose missed a 12-footer to lose the match. Kaymer still looks like the real No. 1 player in the world. Let’s see if he keeps on rolling. Pick: Kaymer.

Jason Day vs. J.B. Holmes. Nothing intimidates like length, and Holmes ranks with the game’s longest hitters. Day isn’t short, but he can expect to hit first most of the day. Does that really make a difference? It might. Holmes is on a free pass as an unexpected late addition to the field, and even though it’s his fifth straight week of tournament play, he seems fresh. Pick: Holmes.

Geoff Ogilvy vs. Bubba Watson. Here’s your marquee pairing for Friday, The Clash of the Titans. They’re both big hitters, although Watson will certainly hit it past Ogilvy. Ogilvy’s match-play record in this event is now 20-3 — that’s Ron Guidry/Sandy Koufax territory. He’s got a little more experience than Bubba, too, but this should be a good one. Pick: Ogilvy.

Ben Crane vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez. You’ve got to love this colorful matchup between a cigar-smoking, pony-tailed man with a bit of a gut and a devil-may-care attitude, and Crane, a perpetrator of several hilarious YouTube videos, who unfortunately plays dreadfully slow golf. Stick with the rule about going with the best putter in match play, though. Pick: Crane.

Rickie Fowler vs. Matt Kuchar. After Fowler roasted Mickelson, who’s going to expect smiley-face Kuchar to give him a game? Think about this for a second, though: Based on the last year’s results, who is the best American player? It might be Kuchar. Look for a close match, but I’ll stick with my pre-tourney pick to win it all. Pick: Fowler.

Graeme McDowell vs. Y.E. Yang. The former PGA champ gets no respect, partly due to the language barrier. McDowell has been hitting on all cylinders ever since last summer, and his confidence is high. He looks unstoppable. Pick: McDowell.

Luke Donald vs. Matteo Manassero. Donald is the king of the back-door top-10 finish, and now he’s got another one. Yes, by winning a second match, the worst he can finish is a tie for ninth. Donald has nine birdies in two rounds, though, and that kind of consistent play will be tough for Manassero, even if he is the 21st century Seve Ballesteros, as some predict. Pick: Donald.

Ryan Moore vs. Nick Watney. Moore has played under the radar so far this week, and he made five birdies in pelting K.J. Choi for a 5-and-4 win. Watney is an excellent iron player and ballstriker, who is tough to beat tee-to-green. The hot putter will win this one. Wonder if Watney might have a letdown after knocking out world No. 1 Lee Westwood? Pick: Moore.