Fowler in top form with Mas­ters ahead

LPGA’s open­ing ma­jor sus­pended by high winds.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

Rickie Fowler shot an 8-un­der 64 for a one-shot lead over Sung Kang af­ter the first round of the Hous­ton Open on Thurs­day.

Fowler had his best round in six ap­pear­ances at the tour­na­ment, top­ping a pre­vi­ous low score of 68. Fowler overcame damp con­di­tions and a chilly, breezy morn­ing in Hum­ble, Texas, to jump to a hot start.

Fowler won last month at the Honda Clas­sic and is try­ing to keep mo­men­tum go­ing into the Mas­ters next week. The Honda Clas­sic win snapped a 13-month, 25-start drought for Fowler.

Fowler held a three-shot lead over Vaughn Tay­lor and Kee­gan Bradley when he fin­ished his round in the af­ter­noon, then Kang closed the gap with his 65. The 29-yearold South Korean missed a putt from less than 5 feet to bo­gey on 18.

Kang is among the 115 play­ers who need a vic­tory to qual­ify for Au­gusta Na­tional, as Jim Her­man did by win­ning in Hous­ton last year. Among the 144 play­ers in the Hous­ton Open field, 29 al­ready have in­vi­ta­tions to play. It would have been 30, ex­pect Dustin John­son de­cided to take the week off af­ter win­ning the Dell Tech­nolo­gies Match Play for his third straight vic­tory.

Be­hind Fowler and Kang, Ste­wart Cink, Jhonat­tan Ve­gas and Kyle Stan­ley all shot 6-un­der 66. Jor­dan Spi­eth strug­gled at times and shot 3-un­der 69. Her­man shot 2-over 74, while 2015 Hous­ton Open win­ner J.B. Holmes shot 1-over 73.

Kang said he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of him­self by eye­ing a last-minute ticket to Au­gusta af­ter the first round.

“I don’t know any­thing about the fu­ture, and what­ever hap­pens, hap­pens,” Kang said. “I’ll just keep do­ing what I can do the next few days, and I’ll ac­cept the re­sults.”

Heavy rains can­celed the pro-am event at the Golf Club of Hous­ton on Wed­nes­day but sun dried out the course later Thurs­day, and the greens be­gan to play faster.

Fowler said he was for­tu­nate to not have been too thrown off by the muddy con­di­tions.

“I felt like I got some good breaks with hav­ing mud on the same side as where the trou­ble was and that I could kind of keep it fairly con­ser­va­tive,”

Fowler said. “If the mud was kind of kick­ing in, it ended up be­ing a good shot.”

On Thurs­day night, Fowler trav­eled 20 miles south to down­town Hous­ton to throw out the first pitch at the Astros’ ex­hi­bi­tion game against the Cubs.

“It’s prob­a­bly more ner­vous when you get out there on the mound than we re­ally ever get or maybe close to Ry­der Cup nerves,” Fowler said. “You’re just hop­ing not to screw up.”

LPGA Tour: France’s Karine Icher shot a 5-un­der 67 to take an early lead be­fore high winds short­ened the open­ing day of the ANA In­spi­ra­tion in Rancho Mi­rage, Calif.

Half of the field in the LPGA Tour’s first ma­jor of the year was still on the course when wild winds in the Coachella Val­ley forced an early halt to play. The first round will re­sume this morn­ing. Four play­ers on the Di­nah Shore Course were one shot be­hind Icher, in­clud­ing Michelle Wie and 17-year-old ama­teur Eun Jeong Seong.

Wie, the for­mer child prodigy, played her open­ing round with 14-year-old Lucy Li, who was 1 un­der.

Ly­dia Ko, the de­fend­ing ANA In­spi­ra­tion cham­pion and world No. 1, was 2 un­der through five holes.

STACY RE­VERE / GETTY IM­AGES

Rickie Fowler lines up a birdie putt on the 10th hole dur­ing Thurs­day’s first round of the Hous­ton Open. Fowler sank it for one of eight birdies in his 64.

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