It’s been so long it’s basically a surprise that Rickie Fowler’s name is near the top of the leaderboard at the Fortinet Championship out in California wine country.
It’s not a mirage — Fowler put together a bogey-free round of 67 and put himself in the hunt in the season’s first event — the final time there will be a cross-over season on the PGA Tour.
Rickie’s 67 was four shots behind first-round leader Justin Lower’s 63 and two back of defending champion Max Homa, who showed his liking for the Silverado Resort course with a seven-under par 65 that put him on Lower’s heels.
With a full field on the course, they didn’t finish due to an early morning fog delay. Two groups were on the course when play was suspended for 90 minutes because of fog. There were 35 players left on the course when darkness halted play at 7:20 p.m. (PDT). Robby Shelton had five holes left to play and was five-under, best of the players who will go back out early Friday to resume play.
Fowler, who is now 33, has been in a mid-career slump and he’s fallen to No. 176 in the world rankings. He has a new caddie (Rickie Romano) and has returned to Butch Harmon as his swing coach after spending three years with John Tillery.
Fowler’s goals are pretty simple: “Get back to having fun and being in contention. Over the last few years, I wasn’t really in a position to be in contention a whole lot. There were a couple times, but there shouldn’t be such big gaps between having a chance to win. I want to go out and beat guys.”
As for his opening effort: “Yeah, I always like it when there’s a bogey-free round in there,” Fowler said. “For the most part, there wasn’t an issue today other than having to make a 15-footer when I hit it into the bunker. Other than that, it was a fairly simple day.”
As for Lower, he’s beginning his second season and his nine-under par effort was his career low. His best finish was an eighth place at the Barbasol Championship last July. “I’ll take it,” Lower said happily. “I birdied half the holes, so that’s always a good start, I guess,” Lower said. “I’m honestly just happy to be in the position I am having I guess, full status.” Lower finished inside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup points last season.
Ben An, S.H. Kim and J.J. Spaun finished with 66s.