While a faltering Tiger Woods failed to build on his solid start to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Friday’s second round, fellow American Rickie Fowler rocketed into a four-way tie for the lead.
The long-haired Fowler, six strokes off the pace overnight, fired a sizzling six-under-par 64 at Firestone Country Club to post an eight-under total of 132 in the elite World Golf Championships event.
Helped by an eagle at the par-four third, where he holed out with a wedge from 110 yards, the 22-year-old ended the round level with compatriots Ryan Moore (66) and USPGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley (65), as well as Australian Adam Scott (70).
However, seven-time champion Woods was unable to capitalize on the momentum of his opening 68 as he followed up with a roller-coaster 71 to lie seven off the lead on his long-awaited return to competition.
“Overall it was a lot of fun today,” said Fowler, who totaled only 21 putts.
“I had a couple mistakes and made four bogeys, but a lot of positives and a lot of good things came out of today. I made some good putts and I’m building some confidence going into the weekend,” Fowler said.
First-round pacesetter Scott briefly claimed the outright lead at nine-under before bogeying his final hole for a 70.
“Today was a little tougher,” said the 31-year-old, who has teamed up with Woods’ former caddie Steve Williams. “I started really solid, but couldn’t make anything on the front nine. It’s a hard golf course and if you’re just a little off, you get quite severely penalized.”
Scott’s fellow Australian Jason Day, who fired a first-round 63, also got to eight-under, before he dropped a shot at the par-four 18th for a 70 and a share of fifth with Swede Robert Karlsson (65) and Britain’s Martin Laird.
On a tightly bunched leaderboard, 20 players were within four strokes of the lead in the final USPGA Tour event before next week’s PGA Championship in Atlanta.
Fowler, one of the game’s most exciting young prospects who is still seeking his first USPGA Tour victory, surged up the leaderboard with a wild mix of eight birdies, an eagle and four bogeys.
After parring his first three holes, the Californian treated the large gallery watching the young duo to a thrilling display of superb shot-making, offset by a few blemishes.
Woods, who made an encouraging start on Thursday in his first tournament in three months, struggled for consistency with a mixture of four birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey.
“I didn’t putt as well as I did yesterday, and consequently I just never got the round going,” the 14-time major champion said after finishing at one-under. “I know my stats don’t show it, but just the way I’m driving the golf ball ... I’m so close to putting the ball on a string, so it’s coming.”
Of the other big names, US Open champion Rory McIlroy carded a second successive 68 to lie four strokes off the pace, one better than world No. 1 Luke Donald, who struggled with his putting on the way to a 69.
Second-ranked Lee Westwood had been close to the lead at six-under with six holes to play, but he stumbled to the finish with four bogeys to card a 71.