Notebook: Fluff Downplays His Own Back-to-Back
By Dave Shedloski
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Mike “Fluff” Cowan doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He has caddied for 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk for a dozen years, and before that there was this job he had with the former No. 1 player in the world, a guy by the name of Tiger Woods.
So when he was approached by a reporter Saturday, he just shook his head. “I’m kind of tired of talking about it already, frankly,” he said with bemusement.
By a week from Sunday, he’ll probably just be flat tired.
After completing his duties with Furyk in Sunday’s final round of the 114th U.S. Open, Cowan will have little time to rest because he will be picking up the bag of 17-year-old sensation Lydia Ko for the 69th U.S. Women’s Open that follows at Pinehurst No. 2. Cowan has done several interviews this week about the dual assignments. He doesn’t think it merits as much attention as he’s been getting.
He’s a caddie, not a journalist.
Cowan received a call from Ko’s agent, Michael Yim of IMG, to gauge his interest in working for Ko, the No. 3 player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, at Pinehurst. Since Furyk is taking the week off, Cowan agreed.
It isn’t Cowan’s first go-around as a caddie for a top female player. Previously, he caddied for Michelle Wie at Kingsmill in 2004, when she was a 14-year-old amateur. There are adjustments in yardages to make, but the job remains the same no matter who the player is. “I think I’ll be OK,” the veteran said with a grin. “I’m really looking forward to watching her play. It should be fun.”
Will Ko gain an advantage having a caddie on her bag who also worked the U.S. Open? Cowan believes so, whether it’s him or someone else.
“I think it’ll be somewhat of an advantage,” Cowan said. “I’ve walked this golf course quite a few times. The greens have all these run-offs and roll, little funny places, and I think I’ll be able to hopefully help guide her away from the trouble.”
Stenson Searching For Stroke
Henrik Stenson has put himself in contention at the U.S. Open through 54 holes by hitting a field-leading 42 of 54 greens in regulation.
What has hindered Stenson’s run at leader Martin Kaymer is his putter.
Stenson shot a third-round 70 and is at 2-under 208 for the championship, good for a fourth-place tie. However, he took 30 or more putts for the third successive round. While Stenson’s 1.72 putts per hole is better than his 1.814 PGA Tour average, which ranks 163rd, Stenson is tied for 46th in that category among the 67 players who made this week’s cut.
Even more damaging is Stenson’s inability to capitalize on his GIR accuracy. He is averaging 1.83 putts per green in regulation, which is tied for 24th. All three players ahead of him on the leader board — Kaymer, Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton — are among the top seven players in that category at 1.76 or lower.
Course Toughens Up
The players who survived the 36-hole cut at Pinehurst No. 2 faced a stern test on Saturday and early finisher Sergio Garcia proved prescient in his post-round interview after he shot 2-over 72.
“The long holes were playing into the wind, [which is] totally different,” said Garcia, who is tied for 35th place, 14 strokes behind Kaymer. “It makes you rethink everything, because the clubs you’re hitting are changing.”
Pinehurst No. 2 played to a 73.82 stroke average on Saturday, nearly a full stroke higher than on Friday, when the average was 72.89. This despite the fact that the par-5 fifth hole yielded 29 birdies and eight eagles, including one by Kaymer, and only five bogeys in playing to more than a half-stroke below its par (4.43).
Said Garcia, who finished his round well before Kaymer began his: “I don’t see anybody shooting better than 67. So if Martin manages to shoot even par, which is a really good round, I think he’s still going to have at least a six- or seven-shot lead.”
As Sergio predicted, the low round was 67 (by Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton), and had Kaymer shot even-par 70, he would have had a seven-stroke lead, as Garcia foresaw. As it stands, Kaymer leads by five after shooting 72.
Rose Admirable in Title Defense, But Streak Likely to Continue
Nine players and eight strokes stand between Justin Rose’s chance to be the first U.S. Open repeat champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
If today were Friday, then Rose might be a bit more optimistic about his chances. But considering only 54-hole leader Martin Kaymer has shot a 65 in 11 U.S. Open rounds contested at Pinehurst No. 2 and there is only one round remaining, Rose has a daunting task.
“Could have been a great day, no doubt,” said Rose, who shot an even-par 70 and is at 1-over 211 for the championship, tied for 10th. “Played really, really well today.
“I felt like I had an opportunity to go low. I felt like I squandered a lot of shots out there. Every bogey I made was a cheap giveaway. That’s why I didn’t really realize how tough the course was playing.”
When Rose finished his round, only two rounds equal to his had been posted. Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, both tied for fourth, also shot 70, while Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton crafted the day’s two best rounds (3-under 67).
So does Rose have a chance?
“Obviously Martin has been the first guy to ever shoot 65 at Pinehurst. And the conditions the first two days were easier than we’ve had them today,” he said. “So saying that, it’s probably not possible. But of course, if you go out and play a special round of golf, it’s always possible.”
Rose said while players have to be aggressive on Sunday, Donald Ross’ gem will have the ultimate say.
“I feel like the course instructs you where to hit it,” said Rose, who is seeking his fourth top-10 finish in nine U.S. Opens. “If you start going at flags, the chasing pack has got that dilemma. They need to make up shots, but they know they can’t get too aggressive around here. I feel like there’s only one way to play this golf course and that’s fairly conservatively.”
Kapur Laments What-Ifs of Third Round
If only, Shiv Kapur must have thought to himself.
“It’s not very often where you walk off the golf course shooting a good round like this and feeling like you left a couple of shots out there,” said Kapur, 32, of India, who shot a 1-over 71.
Kapur began Saturday’s third round tied for 33rd at 3-over-par 143. He promptly bogeyed the opening two par-4 holes to slip back to 5 over. But starting at the 530-yard, par-4 fourth, Kapur birdied four of his next six holes to reach 1 over.
When asked about the highlight of his round, he replied, “I think that run that I had in the middle. I hit a really good shot into five and almost made two. I ended up making four. At the end, that’s just the way the U.S. Open is.
“So a round that started bogey, bogey and then you’re kind of always fighting your way back, this golf course doesn’t give you too many shots back, then to go on a run and make three birdies in a row, I think that really got me going today.”
Kapur, who was an All-American at Purdue University, earned one of 15 spots available at the European sectional qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England.
Kapur’s strong play, though, was dampened by an inward nine stretch where he made four bogeys in five holes. A birdie on 18 gives him a boost heading into Sunday.
“My number-one goal is to shoot a solid round and play myself back into the U.S. Open for next year,” said Kapur, the world’s No. 177th-ranked player who won the Asian Tour’s 2005 Volvo Masters of Asia. “If I can go out and keep my head on my shoulders and play my way into next year’s Open, I'll be pretty happy by the end of the week.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who work appears regularly on usga.org and usopen.com. Stuart Hall and Ron Driscoll also contributed to this report.