Golf: Fowler sets Memorial standard; Woods to make cut
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio — Rickie Fowler tied the 36-hole record at the Memorial on Friday with a 6-under 66 that gave him a four-shot lead among early starters as storm clouds again moved over Muirfield Village.
The 21-year-old Fowler, who lost in a playoff on the PGA Tour last fall and was runner-up in Phoenix this year, pulled away with three straight birdies late in his round to reach 13-under 131. That tied the tournament mark set by Scott Hoch in 1987.
"Just being in contention the few times I have over the last eight months, this is by far the best I've felt," Fowler said.
Defending champion Tiger Woods is starting to feel a little better, too.
Woods was just inside the projected cut line when he started, and with his lackluster play on a course that can penalize errant shots, there was some question whether he would be around for all four rounds in his final event before the U.S. Open.
Those questions didn't last long. He birdied three of the opening five holes, then ran off three straight birdies on his front nine to offset the few mistakes for a 69. He was at 3-under 141, 10 shots behind, but still playing.
"I hit more good shots today than I did yesterday, and really putted well," Woods said.
Tim Petrovic had a 66 and was at 9-under 135, while Byron Nelson winner Jason Day shot 69 and was another stroke back.
Phil Mickelson was among those playing in the afternoon. He started at 5 under and birdied the fifth and sixth holes to reach 7 under before storms in the area caused the second round to be delayed for 15 minutes. Mickelson can move to No. 1 in the world with a victory unless Woods finishes fourth alone or no worse than a three-way tie for third.
Fowler was guaranteed four rounds in the Columbus area when he arrived. No matter what happens this week, he has to go through 36 holes of U.S. Open qualifying on Monday, having to failed to crack the top 50 in the world ranking last month.
That he even had a chance to move into the top 50 at such a young age speaks to his potential.
The former Oklahoma State star turned pro last fall and made a quick impression. He tied for seventh in Las Vegas, and the following week at the Fry's.com Open outside Phoenix, he lost in a three-way playoff.
Fowler had a chance to win the Phoenix Open in February until he couldn't make birdie down the stretch and finished one shot behind.
This might represent his best chance yet.
"We all know he's got the talent to do it," Woods said. "It's just a matter of him doing it."
Fowler, a California kid with an edge and a passion for dirt bikes, doesn't need to be convinced of that. Golf is golf, whether it's against juniors or college players or the best in the world. When he plays, he expects to win.
He rolled in a 35-foot eagle putt on the 15th, then holed a pair of 15-foot putts during his string of three birdies through the eighth hole that gave him some separation.
"I just feel really comfortable getting out and seeing my name on the top of the leaderboard," Fowler said. "It's not making me feel much nerves at all. Almost out there trying to put as much space as I could between me and Petrovic."
Petrovic also played bogey-free on a course that allows for low scoring provided the ball is kept in play. The greens are among the quickest and smoothest, even in a week of rain like this one, with the only problem coming from occasional mud on the ball in the fairway.
Steve Stricker had a 70 and was at 5-under 139, along with Kenny Perry (68) and Tom Pernice Jr., who also had a 68 as he tries to make progress toward his goal of getting back his PGA Tour card and going as far as he can in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Pernice turned 50 last year, and still is going through hoops trying to keep on the big tour.
"As long as I can keep it in close and make some putts and post the scores, I'm going to try to stay out here and see what I can do," Pernice said.
What helps keep Pernice feeling young is a good fitness routine, and it doesn't hurt that he has become somewhat of a big brother to Fowler. They're both from Murrieta, Calif.