AUSTIN, Texas — Rickie Fowler said he’s not a fan of pool play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. And he admitted, openly and honestly, that he made the trip to the Texas capital only as a means back into the field at Augusta National in two weeks.
But Fowler must have been pleased with the gift basket he received Wednesday during the tournament’s opening round at Austin Country Club.
Fowler, ranked 59th in the world and in need of a big showing to get back into the top 50 and secure an automatic berth into the Masters, posted a bogey on the first hole and fell behind early. But he seized opportunity as world No. 2 Jon Rahm fought his putter on the back nine. In the end, Fowler beat Rahm, 2 and 1, to put himself in solid position to reach the knockout stage.
“Jon struggled a little today. I know him quite well and we always have fun playing together. That wasn’t the normal Jon Rahm and what I was exactly expecting to face,” Fowler said. “We both struggled a little bit on the greens. Just happened to hit it a little bit better than him today. That’s match play. Never know what you’re going to get.
“In golf, just about anyone can beat anyone, especially this week with the guys that are out here. Yeah, fortunate to come out on top. I know Jon will be tough for the boys next couple matches. I’ve got to take care of business on my end.”
WGC-Dell Match Play: Photos
Rahm, who said on Tuesday that he’d return to any future match-play events even if they are non-elevated, reached the finals in 2017 — the second year it took place in Austin — before losing to then-No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
But he’ll need to claw and scratch his way out of pool play in what will be the event’s finale after falling to Fowler. The Spaniard will square off Thursday against Keith Mitchell, who tied Billy Horschel in his opening match.
Fowler, who has posted four top-15 finishes in his last eight starts, said the battle began early on Wednesday, when he bumped into Rahm in the gym.
For the fashion-conscious Fowler, that means the stakes were instantly high.
“I was finishing my warmup and he was coming in to start his, and we were both in all black. We started matching, and he was joking about if we were matching out there today,” Fowler said. “I was like, well, I’ve got kind of a tropical, floral shirt, and he’s like, I do, too. I was like, mine is black. He’s like, all right, mine is white.
“So the battle began early.”