Rickie Fowler just part of Star Power Story at Cognizant Classic

Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Billy Horschel and Justin Rose are the headliners in this week’s Cognizant Classic which has a history of winners that includes Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, both of whom won twice.  
Rickie Fowler - The Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches
Rickie Fowler - The Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages

While Johnny Miller still resides in California, the Nicklaus family has called South Florida home for several decades. In recent years, Barbara and Jack Nicklaus have participated in the Cognizant Classic as hosts, and the primary beneficiary of the tournament has become The Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. Several hospitals and medical facilities in the area benefit.   

After playing the tournament at many different golf courses, the Cognizant has found a prestigious home at PGA National where course modifications have perhaps made it a little more user-friendly this year for PGA Tour players.

Rickie Fowler, a 15-year resident of Florida, was the 2017 champion, and because of that this is one tournament he hates to miss.  

“I was bummed I had to take last year off just due to scheduling and how everything fell with some of the elevated events. This is a place where I've played well,” he said before the tournament started.

Fowler characterized The Champion Course at PGA National as a second shot track where wind is often a problem. In addition, there’s an abundance of water, particularly around the finishing holes.

“There's a lot of trouble that is around to ruin your round,” he noted.

But that doesn’t bother Rickie Fowler.

“I've always enjoyed it, and it kind of brings out what can be your best but also can tear you apart if you're not on,” he added.

Fowler said he had hit plenty of good shots during the tournament as well as his share of bad ones.

“I had a big enough lead where I got away with one going in the water on 17,” he recalled about his victory there. “I think I had a four-shot lead going to 17 and gave myself a little bit of cushion, but still dropping and hitting the third not, not exactly the most confident. You're just like, please let this be dry and we can move forward.” 

This year, the course has been made a little more approachable. The 17th is somewhat shorter, and according to Fowler, it is more “inviting” to hit to the green with something shorter than a 4 or 5-iron. 

In addition, the rough is not as long as it has been in recent years.

“It allows you to play some more shots versus being in the rough and just kind of having to either hack it out or maybe advance it up by the green or have to lay up, depending if there's water,” he explained. 

That points to a discussion recently on the Inside the Ropes PGA Tour Radio program with Dennis Paulson and Carl Paulson where they were reminded of Denny McCarthy’s comment a few years ago about the Florida tournaments becoming so difficult that The Players might be the easiest of the four. Both Paulsons laughed because TPC Sawgrass has never been called easy by anyone. 

However, it speaks to the course set-ups in Florida which have been extremely difficult in recent seasons. In addition, the wind, which is extra enthusiastic in March as the season changes from winter to spring, makes all four events even harder. According to Fowler, it is common for South Florida to have 10- to 20-mile-an-hour winds.

“You have to hit solidly struck golf shots,” he said. “It'll expose you if you don't or if you're a little bit off.”

Fowler, who has won two of the four Florida swing tournaments, (Cognizant, when it was the Honda, and The Players) seems to enjoy difficult conditions that would drive most average golfers and most professionals crazy.

“I've always liked this golf course because it's very challenging, and you can't fake it around here,” he said. “I feel like it tests kind of all aspects of your game. It's not just hitting driver everywhere.”

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One thing to watch for, according to Fowler: Big numbers can happen on just about any hole.