• Fowler makes familiar Phoenix entrance

    Rickie Fowler at Phoenix Open
    Rickie looking for his next W

    If you had to predict where Rickie Fowler would pick up his fifth PGA Tour victory, the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale would be as good a guess as any.

    He was runner-up to Hideki Matsuyama in 2016, and T4 last year.

    Fowler was at it again in the first round on Thursday, making four birdies, one bogey and a kick-in eagle at the 548-yard, par-5 15th hole. He was among a large group of players at five under and chasing the first-round leader, Bill Haas (64).

    ‘Yeah, after the first couple years here, I just figured it was a matter of time before I was the last one standing on Sunday,’ Fowler said.

    ‘We have given ourselves some pretty good chances. Losing to Hideki two years ago in the playoff, it’s just a matter of time; I know I can win here, and sometimes you just got to be in the right place at the right time, or not got a bad kick on 17, but we’re going to get one.’

    It was two years ago here that Fowler endured one of the toughest losses of his career. Trying to win for the first time in the presence of his father, Rod, and grandfather, Taka, Fowler hit his tee shot to within nine feet for birdie at the rowdy, par-3 16th hole. With a make, he would have taken a three-shot lead over Matsuyama and Harris English with two holes to play.

    Then it all went bad. Fowler missed the putt, and drove his tee shot at the short, par-4 17th hole through the green and into the water. He would bogey the hole, to Matsuyama’s birdie, and later lose on the fourth hole of a playoff, at 17 again. Fowler was crushed.

     One of the ways he has dealt with that memory this week is by focusing on a different memory, of the boy whom he calls his biggest fan, Griffin Connell. The 7-year-old was born with a respiratory disorder but became a fixture at the WMPO, cheering Fowler on until he died last month. Fowler’s Puma cap on Thursday featured a pin with a photo of Griffin.

    ‘He was just a huge fan of the game,’ Fowler said.

    ‘I was lucky to have him as, I claim him as being my number one fan. … It just makes you appreciate the position that a lot of us are in. Even if I hit a bad shot out there in past years, you would look over and see him and he was pumped and excited to be out there watching us.’

    Credit: PGA TOUR

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