GOLF

Rickie Fowler enjoys most FedEx Cup playoffs behind new caddy, putter

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rickie Fowler was the last man on the court for the FedEx Cup playoffs, but he’s making the most of it with a new caddy and a new putter in his bag.

Fowler scored a 5-under 65 in the first round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind on Thursday. He was tied for fifth after the morning flurry of players. If he can stay there for the next 54 holes, he’d likely qualify for next week’s playoff rematch at the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware.

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It was the first competitive round Fowler had played since splitting with caddy Joe Skovron, a childhood friend who had been on his bag since turning pro in 2009. Cobra-Puma rep Ben Schomin , who caddyed for Bryson DeChambeau last year, is working with Fowler this week.

“I felt good,” Fowler said. “It was more about this week not having Joe with me, obviously an amazing partnership over the years, but it would be more about owning myself and putting more work on myself and more responsibility I still had a lot of [Skovron’s] vocals and one-liners and stuff in my head so he wasn’t on the bag but he was definitely there.”

Fowler nearly missed the FedEx Cup for the second straight season after missing the cut at the Wyndham Championship last week. He returned home to Jupiter, Fla., and played golf on Sunday, while the playoff ground was determined in the final round of the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“There was nothing I could do, so I was playing golf,” Fowler said.

Fowler ended up sneaking in as the final qualifier, mostly because nine LIV Golf players were ineligible after the PGA Tour suspended them.

Fowler, 33, is a five-time PGA Tour winner, but his last victory came at the 2019 WM Phoenix Open. He is currently ranked 167th in the Official World Golf Rankings; he was 85th at the end of 2021. He has only one top 10 finish in 21 starts this season – at the CJ Cup @ Summit in October – and has missed the cup nine times.

There were many reasons for Fowler’s nearly three-year slide. He says his recent struggles can mostly be attributed to his putting. He played with a new Scotty Cameron putter on Thursday, the fifth he’s used in competition this season. He trained with her for the first time on Tuesday.

“It would be nice to hit some [balls] a little closer, but that’s probably not the biggest problem,” Fowler said. “One of the biggest problems of the last year or two, I just don’t put [as well as] what I’m used to or I know I can. It does a lot with momentum and confidence and frees you up from the rest of the game, without feeling like you necessarily have to hit it really close to birdie.

“I rode it really well, and so I think the last thing you want to do is see a few putts, I think something will really free up the rest of the game to start rolling again.”

Fowler ranks 179th in shots won: putt (-.314) this season. He is 106th in putting from 5 feet, 159th from 6 feet and 104th from 7 feet.

“[The ball] goes all over the place,” Fowler said. “I would say a lot of it is reading-based, but at this point when you don’t trust your readings, the speed is a little low, so there’s lots of variables in the setup. If you don’t start it online, it doesn’t matter if you have the right reading or the right speed.”

Fowler finally got the ball rolling on Thursday. He made 55 feet of putts. His eagle on the par-5 16 moved him to 5 under. His first round at least gives him a chance to go beyond this weekend in the playoffs.

“Obviously I have to play well to get to next week, but it would be a big bonus if we could do that and move on,” Fowler said. “Kind of leaving it all there, seeing what happens, but really happy with the start, especially not winning a lot.”

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