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Fowler proves he's still just a kid

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Thank you, Rickie Fowler.

Your one-over 73 in the final round of the Memorial on Sunday; your inability to hold a three-shot lead after 54 holes; your 5-iron into the drink at No. 12 – it all helped to remind us that sometimes, kids are still kids.

Because Fowler did not join Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and Ryo Ishikawa (in Japan) as 'Barely Legals' who have notched a win in 2010, we were all able to take a deep breath and realize the revolution will still be a gradual, year-long process. There is still room for ancient dudes like 29-year-old Justin Rose to win on the PGA Tour.

What Fowler’s failure taught us is: We can still yell at the kids and tell them to turn down their stereos.

The story going into Sunday was Fowler. He had a three-shot lead, and all anybody wanted to know was: Can he close?

Had Fowler won, we were in danger of handing the keys to the golf kingdom to a bunch of guys who can't rent cars without parental supervision.

He didn't win, and it reminded us that it still takes a little scar tissue to become a man out there. Golf remains the game that is the cruelest of mistresses, as I was just saying to my friend, Tiger Woods.

If Fowler had won, he'd have beaten an elite field in only his 19th start – at 21 years old, to boot. Isn't that what they call "Too much, Too soon?"

And yet, there is so much to like about Fowler. His golf swing, all torque and hips and laid flat on the backswing, is delightfully homemade. It's a throwback to the days before video technology. He essentially taught it to himself on a public range in Southern California, in between riding motorbikes for fun. He's no product of a high-priced golf academy in Florida, and because of that, he stands out as one of the most refreshing new faces in years.

And the look! His hair alone would make Justin Bieber's groupies swoon. The Puma flat-billed hat has probably already been featured in a hip-hop video I'm not hip enough to know.

There may be only one issue, and it's not the fact that there's no way he can make that swing into his 30s without mainlining Advil for weeks on end.

It's the tangerine pants. And shirt. And shoes.

Forgive the following Cute-Kid anecdote. It serves a purpose.

So I have a 2-year-old son, who besides being adorable, watches sports on TV with Daddy. At an even younger age, he picked up on Tiger's incredible presence, and will always say, whispering with awe, "Tiger!" anytime the Swooshed One appears on screen.

He's on board with the royal and ancient game, and always says, "Daddy, more golf!" when I am fast-forwarding through commercials.

I tried to get him dialed in to Rickie Fowler, figuring that he was the same distance in age from Fowler as Fowler is from Phil Mickelson. But every time I said to Li'l Declan Murphy: "Who is that?" as I pointed to Fowler, he answered the same every time:


OK, OK. No more stories about my kid. Point is, it's time Rickie Fowler was known for something more than being "Orange!"

I know he wears the Sunday Orange to make a statement that he's here to be noticed; and I know it honors his alma mater, Oklahoma State; but has anybody considered that perhaps Fowler is simply expressing his profound support for Holland's World Cup team?

It is that time of year, you know.

Like I said: There's a lot to like about Rickie Fowler, and he'll be a better and stronger and tougher player for feeling the pain and the sting of failing to get it done in front of Jack Nicklaus. Few of us should worry about his future, which by the way takes another step in Monday’s U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying. (Oh, to be young and out of bed early to make that golf swing and feel no back pain.)

Though Tiger and Jack set examples of guys who broke through for monumental wins early in their 20s, remember the example of Tom Watson, who had to build layers of scar tissue in his youth before he could win a major.

Even Rose, after his sterling, bogey-free final-round 66 gave him his first American win after 161 tries, told Fowler after the round: "Your time is coming."

Surely, it is. Just not right now.

Scorecard of the week

72-69-69-72 – 6-under 282, Tiger Woods, tie-19th, Memorial Tournament, Muirfield Village.

There he was, the great Tiger, tied with Thongchai Jaidee, Pat Perez and Steve Marino after 72 holes.

That's not normally the kind of company T.W. keeps. He usually likes to be lumped into sentences with Jones, Hogan and Nicklaus. There's nobody named 'Jaidee' on that list.

Tiger's four rounds of golf proved a few things:

• He is back from his neck injury, not needing to walk off the course at any point in Ohio.

• He has proven he can play well enough to last longer than 36 holes, avoiding the Shame of Quail Hollow.

• He is probably not ready to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach a week from Sunday.

Of course, with Tiger, you always have to hedge your bets. As soon as you write him off, he goes and fist-pumps his way to a major championship win, and you wind up eating ink-stained crow.

That said, his driver just looked far too erratic to win a national championship. While the stats showed Tiger putted well, and drove it far, his tie-70th in driving accuracy does not portend any repeats of the 2000 atom-bomb he dropped on the field the last time the Open was held at Pebble.

Another interesting tidbit: Tiger admitted to Peter Kostis that replicating tournament adrenaline is impossible without actually playing in a tournament. He admitted that the heartbeat pace, the momentum of competition … it's all different unless you're doing it on a regular basis.

This is now the time to remind you that Tiger has only played two 72-hole events this year.

Bet on him at Pebble at your peril.

Broadcast moment of the week

"I don’t remember which round it was. All I know is, I hit it solid." – Jack Nicklaus, in the CBS booth, Saturday, Memorial Tournament.

This was one of my favorite moments of the weekend.

There was, of course, a rain delay at the Memorial. (Idle suggestion: With the tour hurting for sponsors, perhaps the Memorial could be 'The Memorial, brought to you by Doppler Radar?')

To kill time, CBS was breaking down Rickie Fowler's ridiculously limber swing. The network then showed some old footage of Jack Nicklaus hitting a tee shot on 18 at St. Andrews.

Nick Faldo, for some odd reason, became obsessed with what day and round the Nicklaus footage was from. "Was that the final round?" he asked, more than once. "Was that from the fourth round?" he later asked.

Jack, as if fed up by these peasant-like questions from a man whose major championship total was fully one-third of Jack's haul, finally offered the dismissive quote above.

I loved it. The video confirmed Jack's claim. He roped the tee shot. And he was right; it didn’t matter which round it was. He has 18 majors. He's Jack Nicklaus, dammit. He doesn't have to give a wardrobe rundown to Nick Faldo.

Boo yah!

It's always great to hear Jack's straightforward Midwestern takes. He's always magnanimous to other golfers, and while he doesn't possess the Elvis-like charisma of Arnold Palmer, he's still Jack Nicklaus (dammit!) and doesn't need to apologize to anybody, anywhere.

On a weekend where America mourned the loss of one icon – the late, great John R. Wooden – it was nice to see another American legend looking hale and hearty and enthusiastic.

Long may you run, Jack.

Mulligan of the week

For the rest of his golfing life, Rickie Fowler will never forget the 12th hole at Muirfield Village.

He arrived at the hole 65 holes closer his first PGA Tour victory; tied for the lead with Justin Rose, at the prestigious Memorial, of all places.

He left the hole two shots behind Rose, never to recover.

The culprit was a 5-iron. The golf ball took off toward a tucked flagstick hard by a water hazard, never a good idea on a back nine on a Sunday. His golf shot leaked right, bounced off a mound and into the water.

Double bogey.

The CBS pundits thought maybe Fowler had been too greedy, aiming for the flag when a tee shot to the middle of the green would do.

Fowler later said he was, indeed, playing to the fat of the green, and "just made a bad swing," he said.



So, in the interest of humanity, and a closer finish at the Memorial, let's go back to that 12th tee and … give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

Some of the big boys – headlined by Tiger and Phil – head to their bunkers to prepare for Pebble Beach's United States Open June 17-20.

But the PGA Tour waits for no man. It will hold the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, and it will be sarsaparillas for everyone – 16-year-old Jordan Spieth is playing.

So are U.S. Open hopefuls Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington, for that matter. Sounds like a Team Euro Ryder Cup party to me.

And don't forget, U.S. Open qualifying on Monday. Somebody go wake up Rickie Fowler and tell him that mere hours after his career heartbreak, he has to tee it up again.

He won't care. He's young. Those kids, they bounce back quickly.

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