Austin Country Club's iconic 12th hole allowed Fowler to turn the first-day table on Rahm
Rickie Fowler, ranked No. 59 in the world, caught the momentum he needed Wednesday to defeat No. 2 Jon Rahm on the 12th hole at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament.
No. 12, a 585-yard par 5 with water surrounding two sides of the back half of the fairway as well as the iconic Pennybacker Bridge, has been dubbed the Iron Bridge hole and is one of the most scenic at Austin Country Club. Even the ACC's website uses a backdrop of Pennybacker as seen from No. 12 for its home page image.
But it's also one of the ACC's trickiest holes. Professional golfers can hope for eagles or reasonable birdies, but No. 12's fairway is riddled with hills and fan observation areas on either side in addition to the water threat, causing most players to shoot for birdies or pars. But Fowler and Rahm both came out swinging.
From the tee box, Fowler shanked his ball to the left side of the fairway, between a rough and a hard place. Resting against a pedestrian walkway and an observation tent, the ball was close to aligned with a steep bunker on the right side of the green. In contrast, Rahm's drive landed perfect in the middle of the fairway, dead center to the green, setting himself up for a possible eagle or birdie to gain the advantage in a tied match.
Fowler — who's fighting to qualify for the Masters for the first time since 2021, and needs a good week in Austin to move into the top-50 rankings for an automatic invitation — must have heard the group of fans who were sitting against the ropes, betting against his new swing.
The bet? That both Fowler and Rahm would find the putting green.
With a limited range of motion, Fowler didn't quite make it, but drove the ball nearly 200 yards to sit less than 50 feet away from the hole in the fringe.
Three spectators handed $60 over to the better.
Two shots later, Fowler made a 1-foot putt for birdie, giving him a one-stroke lead over Rahm after the Spaniard botched his own birdie putt. After bogeying No. 11 and losing the lead on 12, Rahm nearly took his frustration out on the event signage directing the players through a spectator area. Fowler eventually won the match.
"(It was) very uncharacteristic from Jon," Fowler said. " I just got fortunate to kind of turn it around, get in control of the match there on the back nine, and just kind of (keep) the throttle down."
Bohls: Min Woo Lee is making a name for himself at Dell Match Play tournament
However, Rahm wasn’t alone in his bad luck. Both third-seeded Rory McIlroy, No. 12 Tony Finau and No. 13 Jordan Spieth also lost on the hole.
As one of the PGA Tour’s most prolific players in the previous 15 years, McIlroy drew a crowd that nearly bled into Hole 13. Stretching along the right side of the fairway, fans clapped as he approached the tee. When he drove into the left-side rough, they let out a collective “ooh” of disapproval.
Bohls: Scottie Scheffler may be No. 1 in the world, but he's as humble as ever
To get himself out of the trees, McIlroy chipped his ball to the right-side fringe to give him an opportunity for an unlikely but possible eagle. With fans encouraging him from three feet away, he got the ball to the green but missed his next short birdie putt, cutting his lead to one.
While Finau grazed the hole to miss the birdie putt that consequentially shrunk his lead, Spieth took a provisional after hitting his drive into the water. However, Finau, Spieth and McIlroy all exited the first round unscathed and unbothered by their performance at Pennybacker. In fact, they all were applauded exiting the green.
After Spieth’s bogey, many of the traveling fans loyal to the Texan stayed in place rather than following him to No. 13.
“It’s the best hole at the course,” a tournament volunteer said. “Why wouldn’t you want to be here? It’s the place to be.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Fowler tops No. 2 Rahm after turning round around at scenic No. 12