So much for the back nine at Royal Aberdeen being almost unplayable in a stiff, south-easterly wind. Rickie Fowler, the flash-dressing young American, has played it in one-under-par in the teeth of the conditions over the past two days.
Birdies at 11 in round two and 12 in round three were off-set by solitary bogey on the 16th hole on Saturday. That’s in stark contrast to the high scores posted by the majority of the field over the same stretch of holes in the past two rounds.
At the time of writing – and with around half of the field still to finish their third rounds – only three eagles and 191 birdies had been recorded over the back nine on Friday and Saturday. By comparison, there had been 428 bogeys and 88 doubles or worse.
If holes ten through 18 are where you’re meant to cling on for dear life, Rickie clearly didn’t get the memo. So, what’s he doing differently to everybody else?
“I guess I just haven’t been counting ,” he laughed. “I don’t really know. It’s been good. I’ve played it very well. In fact, on Friday, with that downwind, it probably played easier but I played it worse. But I’ve been controlling my ball very well. I’ve struggled a little bit with my 3-iron off the tee, so we’ll need to see if we can get that straightened out, but I’ve been staying away from making big numbers, accepting bogey when I’ve had to and, for the most part, just kind of salvaging pars and throwing in a couple of birdies here and there.”
“I’m definitely enjoying the course and that makes it a lot easier to just go and play well." - Rickie Fowler
He added: “Playing downwind is fun and all but I like playing shots back into the wind. You’ve got to hit the ball in the centre of the face, control your flight and actually hit your numbers.”
If you're surprised at the way in which Fowler is intelligently manoeuvring his way around the Balgownie Links, you really ought not to be. The 25-year-old is a superb links golfer. He proved that for the first time at the 2007 Walker Cup where he was one of the cornerstones of the USA’s victory at Royal County Down. He also finished tied fifth in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 2011. He is, in short, sneaky good at links golf, and his shows in his score. Going into Sunday’s final round, he’s three-under and yet to play a round in worse than level-par.
“I’m definitely enjoying the course and that makes it a lot easier to just go and play well,” he added. “I just love links golf.”
That’s as maybe but there is a genuine concern Royal Aberdeen might be playing a little too tough and causing the players to work too hard with the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool looming large on the horizon. The defending champion both here and at next week’s major, Phil Mickelson, noted after yesterday’s round that he was concerned he was using up 'a little more energy than I'd like' with next week in mind. Fowler doesn’t necessarily agree.
“I played the three weeks leading into the US Open and finished second there so, as far as too much play, too much test, or a mental grind goes, it’s just one week,” he said. “It’s hard to say it’s too much of a test. I feel like it’s a good way to kind of check and see where you’re at. If it was too easy a golf course, you might get too much confidence leading into next week, so I think it’s a good test and shows you what you might need to work on. Ball-striking, putting, short game, and so on, with a view to next week.
“This course will either show you where you’re at and that your game’s good or it’ll kick you right back and let you know you’re not quite ready.”
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