Like most of the US PGA Tour’s best, the closing stretch of Rickie Fowler’s 2016/2017 season was a frantic race to the finish. He teed it up in eight of the final 11 events of the year, including the Presidents Cup, a four-day affair that saw Fowler take 3 1/2 of a possible four points from his matches.
After taking some quality time off, the four-time tour winner made his 2017/2018 debut on Thursday at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, and looked as fresh as ever, posting a bogey-free, six-under 65 at El Camaleon Golf Club in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. He sits three back of leader Patton Kizzire, who opened with a nine-under 62.
“It’s nice to come off of some time off, just kind of being away from the game and feeling good coming in,” Fowler said. “It was nice to go out and play bogey-free, solid way to start.”
Fowler, who is making his first start in the OHL Classic, began his round on the back nine, making three straight pars to start before holing birdies on three of his next four holes, including a 22-footer on the par-3 15th. He followed with six consecutive pars before rallying late, making birdies on three of his final five holes.
“I made a couple good putts and swings coming in, turned a pretty decent round into a solid one,” he said.
Despite the low round, Fowler still finds himself three off the lead, held by Kizzire, whose 62 marks the lowest round of his career.
“I’ve been playing well, recently, and really all year,” Kizzire said. “Just getting everything to click in the same day is the key.”
Having everything click on Thursday led to 10 birdies for the Auburn University alum, who finished T-10 at the Sanderson Farms and T-4 at the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open. Another top-10 finish this week would give him three in a row, something he’s never done in his PGA Tour career.
“My game feels good and I’m just enjoying today and putting it all together,” he said
Sandwiched in between Kizzire and Fowler is Vaughn Taylor, who carded a seven-under 64 with five birdies, an eagle and no bogeys. The three-time PGA Tour winner is making his fourth start of the season, having missed two cuts and finishing T-10 at the Sanderson Farms, his first top-10 finish since his victory at the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Tied for third with Fowler at six under is Brandon Harkins, a Web.com Tour graduate making just his fifth career start on the PGA Tour. Harkins’ round featured six birdies, two bogeys and an eagle.
Six players are at five under, including two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, who is appearing in his 325th career event on the PGA Tour. After opening last season with seven missed cuts, the South African bounced back, registering a T-2 at the Puerto Rico Open and top-15s at the Zurich Classic and the Barbasol Championship. Also at five under is Keith Mitchell, who opened his round in rare fashion, making a hole-in-one at the par-3 10th.
Patrick Rodgers, Kevin Chappell and defending champion Pat Perez each shot four under 67s and sit five off the lead.
Geoff Ogilvy was the best of the Australians, shooting a three under 68 to be T-21. Greg Chalmers was another stroke back to be T-36. Matt Jones had 72 and Aaron Baddeley a 73.
Kiwis Tim Wilkinson and Danny Lee both carded 70 to be T-56.