Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 3, 2011

For Marino And Fowler, The Wait Continues

In the suburbs west of Philadelphia, two members of the PGA Tour awoke Sunday morning sharing the hope that this might be the day when they would finally win their first tournament. Through three rounds of the AT&T National at historic Aronimink Golf Club, 31-year old Steve Marino was at seven under par, just two shots back of a pair of leaders, one of whom was 22-year old Rickie Fowler.

Held at Congressional Country Club just outside of Washington, D.C., for the first three years of its existence, the AT&T National needed to find a two-year temporary home for 2010 and 2011 as Congressional prepared for and then hosted the U.S. Open. The members of Aronimink were more than happy to volunteer their course. An original Donald Ross design, with many of his original features recaptured during an extensive restoration project in 2003, the course is a challenging layout even for the pros. After hosting last year’s tournament, Aronimink ranked as the 4th toughest course on Tour in 2010. The club was the site of the 1962 PGA Championship, as well as the 1977 U.S. Amateur, 1997 Junior Amateur and 2003 Senior PGA. The membership would dearly love to host another major championship, so filling in as the site for a regular Tour stop for a couple of years has allowed them to showcase their par-70 layout.

Korean K. J. Choi led after two rounds at seven under, with Fowler four shots behind after opening rounds of 68 and 69. At the halfway point Marino was sitting at even par with matching rounds of 70. In a sure sign of the difficulty of the golf course, the 36-hole cut came at 2 over par. At most of the weekly events on the PGA Tour schedule, anyone over par after two rounds is headed home for the weekend.

Even the hardest layout can be softened by rain, and after storms moved through the Philadelphia area overnight, the field started taking dead aim at the pins on Saturday. The course record of 64, which Choi had matched in the second round, was tied four times. Then that record fell, as 26-year old Nationwide Tour graduate Chris Kirk fired a seven under par 63. A short while later Marino claimed a share of the course record by matching Kirk’s feat, moving him to seven under for the tournament. Just a few minutes later Nick Watney finished off an incredible back nine of six birdies and an eagle. Watney’s 27 on the inward nine gave him a score of 62 for the third round and put him at nine under for the week. Marino, told that he had jointly held the Aronimink course record for all of about ten minutes, wryly remarked “Well, it was fun while it lasted.”

Fowler meanwhile was not having a bad day either. His third round 64 moved him to nine under and in a tie for first with Watney. Only a late bogey on the 17th hole prevented him from holding the outright lead through 54 holes.

Winning any tournament is hard; securing one’s first victory on Tour is doubly so. In addition to beating the rest of the field, the first-time winner must master his own nerves and internal doubts. As if that weren’t enough, he must also be able to carry the burden of expectations along those final fairways.

Since earning his card out of Q-School and joining the Tour in 2007, Steve Marino has played in more than 125 events. He’s won more than $8.6 million in prize money and has more than 20 top ten finishes. In 2009 he lost at Colonial in a playoff to Steve Stricker. Later that summer he was the co-leader with Tom Watson at the mid-point of the Open Championship at Turnberry, before fading over the weekend. This year he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He led at Pebble Beach after both the second and third rounds, but was passed by D. A. Points on Sunday. He led at Bay Hill on the closing nine, only to hit into plugged lies in bunkers on both the 15th and 17th holes. A closing birdie still left him one stroke adrift of winner Martin Laird. Every so often a golf columnist will offer up a list of “best players without a victory” on the Tour. Increasingly Marino’s name is on those lists. It is not a recognition that any pro desires.

Rickie Fowler was the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, an award voted on by his fellow players. Even before that recognition, he was being hailed by golf writers as the next you-know-who, certain to be a superstar. He finished second in his very first professional tournament in late 2009, and added two more seconds and a total of seven top ten finishes in 2010. A captain’s choice for the U.S. Ryder Cup squad last fall, Fowler was the youngest American ever to compete in the biennial event. In the Sunday singles matches, he proved his mettle. Down 4 holes to Edoardo Molinari through 12, Fowler rallied. He birdied each of the final four holes to force a tie and win half a point for the U.S. team.

Much is expected of Marino. Greatness is expected of Fowler. While they each have a caddy to shoulder their golf bag, they alone must bear the weight of those expectations. Marino has come close often enough that one still has to think his moment of triumph will come. At just 22, there is every reason to assume that Fowler will have a long and successful career. But for the moment, the story of both of these golfers is more about what might be than what is. While both awoke Sunday with a genuine shot at victory, Aronimink was not kind to either of them. Nick Watney won the AT&T National by two strokes, his second victory of the year and fourth of his PGA Tour career. Meanwhile, with the course still playing a little soft, of the top two dozen golfers on the final leader board, only three played the final round over par. Two of those three were named Steve Marino and Rickie Fowler. For both, a first victory remains elusive even as the weight of expectations continues to grow.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the great article. I watched the last couple of holes on Saturday for Fowler (who I just love) and thought to myself, I hope he can dig down and find the mettle to beat Watney and Choi.

    I was at a bbq on Sunday and caught a glimpse of him double bogeying the 1st hole! Psychologically, it’s nearly impossible to come back from that with such close competition.

    This was a better article than a lot of the stuff I read in Golf Magazine every month. Great analysis!


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