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Rickie Fowler turns back clock with 3rd-round lead at CJ Cup

Updated October 16, 2021 - 6:51 pm

There’s been a Rickie Fowler sighting on the PGA Tour.

Fans of the ultra-popular player have seen a lot of him lately on a plethora of TV commercials but rarely on leaderboards. On Sunday, he’ll start the CJ Cup with his first 54-lead in nearly three years, looking to put a ton of recent struggles behind him.

Fowler shot 9-under 63 on Saturday at The Summit Club, taking him to 21 under and a two-shot lead over another big name, Rory McIlory, whose 62 was the low round of the day.

Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer and Robert Streb are three back, and Tyrrell Hatton and Keith Mitchell are four behind.

Fowler has had just one top-10 finish in the past 21 months and hasn’t won since the Phoenix Open nearly three years ago. He hasn’t even made a cut since late July, including missing last week at the Shriners Children’s Open.

“It’s just been a long time coming,” Fowler said of seeing his name on top of a leaderboard again. “I haven’t been in this position a whole lot in the last couple years, so to feel the emotions again on the back nine being around and then in the lead … it was great to see that I was still executing and hitting the shots that I wanted to.”

A staple of the top 20 in the world rankings throughout the last decade, Fowler got as high as No. 4 in 2015. He entered the week at No. 128, needing a sponsor invite to get into the field.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a tight leaderboard, and this is a golf course where if you drive it well, which I’ve been doing this week, you can score. But as soon as you get a bit offline off the tee, it becomes a whole different golf course.”

Mitchell found that out Saturday. He took a five-shot lead into the round and discovered what can happen at The Summit Club when your driver goes haywire.

After getting to 20 under early, he missed seven consecutive fairways, including finding the desert on Nos. 8 and 9, leading to consecutive double bogeys. He finished with a 73 and is now in the large pack chasing Fowler.

McIlroy went out in the late morning, birdied six holes on the front nine and capped his round with an eagle on the 18th. And as low as he went, it could have been better. He missed four other eagle attempts on the day.

“After the front nine, I did what I needed to do on the back nine,” he said. “I probably felt like I left a couple out there, but I’m not going to complain.”

Playing with Ancer, the two combined to shoot 19 under, feeding off each other all day.

“Man, this was a lot of fun,” Ancer said after his 63. “Every time that I’ve played with Rory, I’ve rolled the putter so good, and today was the same case.”

He’ll get the opportunity again Sunday, playing with McIlroy and Fowler in the final group.

McIlroy, who has gone 37 consecutive holes without a bogey, just wants to do more of the same for one more day.

“I just wanted to go out there and play a good round of golf,” he said. “Every hole basically on this course is a birdie chance, so you just try to put it in play, give yourself a putt at it on the green and go from there.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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