La Quinta, Calif. — Rickie Fowler came to The American Express for the first time in six years to prepare for the next two weeks at Torrey Pines and TPC Scottsdale.
He’s ahead of schedule, shooting an 8-under 64 on Friday at PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course for a share of the second-round lead with Scottie Scheffler.
In a position to make the trip over the hill to San Diego and Torrey Pines with his sixth PGA Tour title and first since Phoenix a year ago, Fowler set up shop last week at the nearby Madison Club after tying for fifth at Kapalua in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“It was nice to get a little work in, get some good practice and play out here in the desert to get used to being back in the desert,” said Fowler, who grew up about an hour away in Murrieta. “It’s been very beneficial. I looked at that as something that was going to be the best opportunity for me to go into this West Coast swing to get the game where I want to and to play well.”
He opened with a 65 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.
“These courses are scorable, but I feel like it’s a fine line between playing well out here and kind of scraping by,” Fowler said. “If you drive it well and hit good approach shots, you can make a lot of birdies, but if you’re a little off you’re kind of scrambling for par. I feel like I’ve done a good job of just kind of picking my way around the two golf courses so far.”
He played his final nine in 6-under 30, making a 6-foot eagle putt on the par-5 fourth, four birdies and two big par saves on Nos. 6 and 7.
“It’s always nice when you don’t give shots back, especially in a tournament like this where typically the scores are going to be on the lower side,” Fowler said. “Bogey almost feels like you’re giving two shots back.”
At 15-under 129, he had the lowest 36-hole score of his PGA Tour career.
Playing in the same third of the field as Fowler in the pro-am event, Scheffler also opened with rounds of 65 and 64. He birdied the first four holes and six of the first seven Friday, then rebounded from a double bogey on the par-4 18th with an eagle and two birdies in his second nine.
“Wish the double wasn’t in there, but it was still a very good score,” Scheffler said. “I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well, just doing a good job managing my game, giving myself a lot of looks. I got off to a pretty hot start today and kept playing pretty solid, even after that double on 18, just staying in a good place mentally and was able to hit some good shots.”
The 23-year-old former University of Texas star is in his first season on the PGA Tour after winning twice and topping the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and overall points lists.
Fowler and Scheffler will play PGA West’s Stadium Course — also the site of the final round — on Saturday.
Tournament host Phil Mickelson needed a low round Saturday at the Stadium Course to make the cut after rounds of 70 and 72 in his first start of the year.
Andrew Landry was a stroke out of the lead after a 64 at La Quinta.
Tony Finau, at No. 15 in the world the top-ranked player in the field, made a big move with a 62 on the Nicklaus layout. Playing alongside Mickelson, Finau was two strokes back at 13 under after the best round of the first two days. He played his final nine in 7-under 29.
“The putter got hot for me on that back nine,” Finau said. “I hit it really nicely yesterday. I didn’t feel like I got what I wanted out of the round and I wanted to change that today. I hit it well again and I was able to make some putts and just get some momentum.”
Defending champion Adam Long was 5 under after a 70 on the Nicklaus Course.
Woody Austin scrambled for birdie on the par-4 18th to take the lead into the final round of the PGA Tour Champions’ season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, while Ernie Els had the best round of the day to get into contention in his senior debut.
After the wind carried Austin’s drive far right, he hit a low 4-iron out of the rough to 12 feet to set up the closing birdie at windy Hualalai. He had a 4-under 68 to get to 11-under 133, a stroke ahead of Bernhard Langer.
The 55-year-old Austin won the 2016 event for the second of his four senior titles. He also won four times on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve got to sharpen up the putter,” Austin said. “I three-putted three times in the two days, so I need to sharpen that up.”
Langer, tied for the first-round lead with Miguel Angel Jimenez, followed an opening 64 with a 70.
The 62-year-old German star won the event in 2009, 2014 and 2017. He has 40 Champions victories.
Jimenez, the 2015 winner, had three front-nine bogeys in a 71 to fall into a tie for third with Fred Couples at 9 under. The 60-year-old Couples had a 68.
“If it’s this hard of a wind, someone could shoot 4 or 5 under and win,” Couples said. “If it’s calmer, it might take 6 or 7 under. It’s like that every year.”
Els followed a 72 with a 65 to get to 7 under. He birdied four of the first six holes and eagled the par-5 seventh. He bogeyed the par-4 ninth and added birdies on Nos. 12 and 13.
John Daly also was 7 under after a 68.
Francesco Laporta earned a one-shot lead halfway through the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after carding a 9-under 63, while top-ranked Brooks Koepka struggled on Friday.
The Italian moved to 10 under after two rounds. One shot behind were Matthew Fitzpatrick of England (67) and Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain (68).
“Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it,” Laporta said. ”It was a great day.”
Sergio Garcia, Li Haotong and first-round leader Renato Paratore were two shots off the pace on 8 under.
Louis Oosthuizen and Lee Westwood were in a group of five on 7 under.
Canada’s Brooke Henderson parlayed four birdies and a late eagle into the hottest round and a share of the lead at the LPGA’s season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Henderson had a 5-under 66 to join Inbee Park of South Korea at 9-under 133 heading to the weekend at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando.
Henderson, No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings and the highest-ranked player among the 26 LPGA players in the field, had a clean scorecard until three-putting from the back collar at the difficult, 192-yard closing hole for her lone bogey.
She wasn’t pleased with the finish, but she also wasn’t going to allow it to sour a solid body of work on a day when the scoring average was nearly 71. Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, whose lone LPGA victory is the 2018 Blue Bay LPGA in China, shot 69 and is alone in third, two shots back.