Fowler starts new caddy, coach and early 67 in Napa

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NAPA, Calif. (TBEN) — Rickie Fowler began his 15th professional season on Thursday. From clubs to coach to caddy, just about everything is new to the five-time PGA Tour winner.

Fowler, whose last win was the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, enjoyed immediate success.

He shot a 5-under 67 and belonged to a big group with one shot behind early co-leaders Byeong Hun An and SH Kim at the fog-delayed Fortinet Championship.

An, a three-time PGA Tour runner-up who regained his card via the Korn Ferry Tour, had seven birdies and one bogey en route to his 66 at Silverado Resort and Spa.

Kim, a rookie on the PGA Tour, had eight birdies and two bogeys in the opening round of the new season of the PGA Tour – the last time on a wrap-around schedule.

Two groups started playing in the first round, but it was then delayed 90 minutes by fog.

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Defending champion Max Homa, a two-time winner last season and captain for next week’s Presidents Cup, was one of the late starters. It was expected that about 20 players would not complete their opening rounds.

Fowler, who had a bogey-free round, has racked up just four top-10 finishes in the past three seasons. He has recently started using a new putter and this week he is also using a new set of irons.

Once ranked as number 4 in the world, Fowler is now ranked 176th. With his new clubs, Fowler hopes to revive his career with the help of a new caddy and new coach.

The bag features friend and veteran PGA Tour caddy Ricky Romano. Butch Harmon, who has worked with Fowler in the past, replaced John Tillery, who was Fowler’s swing coach for the past three years.

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“Yeah, I always like it when there’s a bogey-free round,” Fowler said. “For the most part there was no problem today other than having to make a 15 footer when I hit it in the bunker. Other than that, it was a pretty easy day.”

Fowler missed the FedExCup playoffs for the first time in his career in 2021. He competed in the first playoff event of the past season, the FedEx St. Jude Championship in August, but failed to progress.

“I’ve had some good weeks in recent years, but it shouldn’t be just a few weeks in those years, there should be more,” Fowler said. “I’m just trying to be more consistent.”

Greyson Sigg, Nick Taylor, Sahith Theegala, Scott Harrington, Matti Schmid and Emiliano Grillo, who won the event in 2015 and finished second twice last season, also shot 67s.

Fowler hadn’t played in the event since 2010, when it was played in CordeValle.

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“Well, not going to the playoffs and not being on a Presidents Cup team, that’s really the only reason I haven’t been to Napa yet,” Fowler said. “I’ve always heard good things about the event, so not because of bad play or anything, but that’s kind of why we can be here this week.”

Fowler was pleased with his overall play, especially from the tee.

“I set up the lap by riding it pretty well, especially the second half of the day,” said Fowler. “And I could just keep going. There weren’t many times when I had to play too defensively.”

Matt Kuchar, whose 2019 Sony Open win was the last of his nine PGA Tour titles, was among a number of players at 4 under.

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