Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler posts 'stress-free' 66 to tie for first round lead at U.S. Open

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USATSI

Rickie Fowler posts 'stress-free' 66 to tie for first round lead at U.S. Open

PEBBLE BEACH, CA. -- If anyone understands the saying, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" it might be Rickie Fowler. 

The 30-year-old has posted nine top-10 finishes at majors in his career, including four consecutive top fives during the 2014 season. Almost every major Sunday you'll spot Fowler waiting by the clubhouse to congratulate whoever just added a major championship to their trophy case. He's been waiting patiently for his moment.

After firing a final-round 67 to finish one shot behind eventual champion Patrick Reed at the 2018 Masters, Fowler admitted he finally felt he was ready to break through at a major championship and understood what it takes. 

That breakthrough might just come this week at Pebble Beach. Fowler put on a ball-striking clinic during Thursday's first round of the 2019 U.S. Open, hitting 11-of-12 fairways and 13-of-15 greens in regulation en route to a stress-free 5-under-par-66 that has him one off the lead set by Justin Rose. 

"Yeah, that was a big week," Fowler said of the 2018 Masters following Thursday's first round. "Obviously, I had been in contention before, gotten close and been around, and had opportunities before, but to really kind of take the opportunity head on -- you know that back nine, the way I executed there was similar to today. 

"So yeah, that back nine there was very big. Especially, this year as well I had a chance to make a bit of run and I had a couple of putts slide by, a couple missed yet. It's been a fun run. I think it's been a long road to get to the point where majors felt like another week. Because they are bigger, they're majors, there's a lot going on, but now it's time to soak it all up and have some fun." 

Fowler certainly had some fun Thursday on Monterey Peninsula. 

With the wind barely blowing and cloud cover keeping the fairways and greens soft, Fowler attacked the toothless course with all the precision of a world-renowned surgeon. He birdied the 502-yard, Par-4 second hole and then racked up birdies at No. 4 and No. 7 before dropping a shot with a bogey at No. 9.

Despite the bogey at No. 9, the back nine belonged to Fowler. He got the dropped shot back at No. 11, sticking a wedge to seven feet before burying a birdie putt. Fowler birdied No. 14 and No. 15 before stringing together three straight pars to finish the day at 5-under. 

“I felt like that was about the highest score I could have shot today,” Fowler said. “Just happy with how stress-free and easy it was.”

With the course defenseless, Fowler played aggressively and put himself in position to be a factor at this U.S. Open. The Murrieta native is pleased with how he was able to take advantage of a windless Pebble and thinks he can rely on past major experiences to stay in calm and in the moment.

"I did a really good job of thinking through everything and being detailed," Fowler said. "If I had any worry, I backed off or made sure that I went through the process again. That gets more and more important especially when you get to Saturday, Sunday. Things start to speed up and I think that's been something that I've done a good job of the last few years and have learned from past experiences.

"It's a lot easier said than done, but I'm looking forward to it. Great start today. I loved what we were able to accomplish and it'll be nice to see if we can top that, or if not, keep matching it." 

[RELATED: Spieth hoping to return to ranks of golf's elite at U.S. Open]

Fowler once again is in position to become a major champion and finally lift the weight off his shoulders. 

He just has to stay calm and patient when the course toughens up and Sunday very well could be his coronation. 

With support of Spieth and Fowler, Thomas rallies to win PGA Championship

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USATSI

With support of Spieth and Fowler, Thomas rallies to win PGA Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Justin Thomas emerged from the shadow of a longtime friend and won the PGA Championship to take his place among the young elite in golf.

With two big breaks to start the back nine, a chip-in for birdie and a 7-iron that soared over the water to a peninsula green, Thomas closed with a 3-under 68 and won by two shots. The PGA Championship was the most fitting major for the 24-year-old son of a PGA professional.

Mike Thomas, a former PGA board member and longtime pro in Kentucky, walked along the edge of the 18th green and into the arms of his son, a major champion.

The week began with Jordan Spieth's quest for a career Grand Slam. Spieth was at the 18th green late Sunday afternoon at Quail Hollow, but only so he could celebrate the moment with Thomas, close friends since they were 14.

"So awesome, dude," Spieth told him.

It was every bit of that.

With five players still in the mix in the final hour, Thomas surged ahead by chipping in from 40 feet on the par-3 13th hole, and holding his nerve down the stretch as his challenger eventually faded, one after another.

Hideki Matsuyama, bidding to become the first player from Japan to win a major, appeared to recover from back-to-back bogeys with two straight birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to get within one shot. But the championship turned on the 16th hole.

Thomas faced a 6-foot par putt to stay at 8 under. Matsuyama caught a good lie over the green and chipped to 5 feet. Thomas wasted no time over the putt and drilled it in the center of cup. Matsuyama missed and was two shots behind.

Thomas sealed it with a 7-iron from 221 yards that cleared the water and rolled out to 15 feet. The birdie putt curled in and his lead was up to three going to the 18th. A final bogey only affected the score.

He finished at 8-under 276, his fourth victory of the year.

Kevin Kisner was the last one who had a chance to catch him. But he three-putted from 100 feet on the 16th for bogey, couldn't birdie the 17th from long range and hit his second shot into the water and finished with a double bogey. Kisner, the 54-hole leader, closed with a 74.

Matsuyama also hit into the water on No. 18 and made bogey for a 72 to finish three back.

Louis Oosthuizen (70), Patrick Reed (67) and Francesco Molinari (67) tied for second, though none had a chance to win playing the 18th.