'Young guns' dominate field

Three newbies remain in final 16 as format favors youth movement
2011-02-25T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:46:39Z 'Young guns' dominate fieldPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 25, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Wearing a straight-brimmed hat and matching monochromatic shirt, Rickie Fowler dresses more like a motocross racer than a PGA pro, a product of his Southern California provenance and 1988 birth date.

Maybe it was appropriate, too, that he arrived to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Thursday dressed like a stick of bubblegum.

At 22, he's hardly a teenybopper.

Wearing a hot pink hat, shirt and spikes, Fowler is, however, one of the three remaining young players who could make history.

Along with 17-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero and 23-year-old Aussie Jason Day, Fowler is in the final 16.

"I think most of the young guys are pretty fearless," Fowler said. "We're ready to play."

All three would qualify as the youngest champion in the history of the event - or any World Golf Championships event. Tiger Woods won the 1999 NEC Invitational when he was about four months older than Day.

"Just being out there reminds me of all the old days when I was back playing as an amateur and as a junior," Day said. "There are a few little mind games out there, but you just have to stay strong."

Fowler, No. 29 overall, suggested that match play might be a young man's game - after all, the format is used more in the amateur ranks than the pros.

But the event benefits neither the old nor young pro; the eldest to win was 38 years, 1 month and 22 days.

Fowler won't be that age until January 2027.

"You've got to go out and win six matches; it's not like you're trying to beat 156 guys in the field," said the Murrieta, Calif., native. "So it's pretty cool. The young guys, I guess, are playing pretty well this week."

They were dominant.

Fowler whupped the event's most popular remaining player, Phil Mickelson, 6 and 5. On the 13th hole, Fowler buried Mickelson with an approach shot that landed 2 feet from the hole. The raucous Walter Hagen Club started a "U of A!" chant to mock the Arizona State grad's elimination.

Later, Manassero, No. 57, won the 17th hole and then earned a 1-up victory.

And Day beat Paul Casey - a runner-up the past two years - 4 and 2. Casey had lost only once at this Match Play event to a player ranked lower than Day's No. 38.

Day continued to try to apply mind-game pressure, given his last match play appearance came five years ago as an 18-year-old amateur. One psych-out trick was to walk in front of his opponent the whole time.

"Paul walks pretty quick," he quipped, "so it was hard to stay in front of him."

The three young players - Fowler called the generation "young guns" - grew up on different continents. Manassero didn't meet Fowler until reaching the pros.

But, squint your eyes for a minute, and the three could unite at the most amazing time. Fowler could win the Ben Hogan bracket, Day the Sam Snead and Manassero the Bobby Jones.

With two more good days, the three could be in the Final Four, together.

"I don't want to put myself into carrying the final, which I think is very difficult," said Manassero, whose nickname, "Manny," is emblazoned into the back of his cap. "But anyway, I'll try to do it."

In the Gary Player bracket, 26-year-old Martin Kaymer or Miguel Angel Jimenez, the oldest remaining golfer could reach the semis.

Jimenez, 47, is older than any two of the three "young guns" combined.

Fowler seems to remind you of his age at every turn; his Sharpie pen, lanyard and iPhone case are all the orange of his alma mater, Oklahoma State.

He could make another signature move in two more days against older, better-known competition.

"I wouldn't say there's anyone that scares me in a way, or I'm sitting there staring at them," he said. "But it's definitely something that I've dreamed about - playing out here with these guys."

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