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Staying the Course Is Fowler's Top Priority

June 08, 2004|Rafer Weigel | Times Staff Writer

Rickie Fowler is the hottest golfer in the Southland -- and, perhaps, the youngest -- heading into the state tournament today at Santa Maria Country Club.

The Murrieta Valley 15-year-old freshman with the brace-filled smile is 15-under-par in his last three postseason rounds.

Fowler shot a tournament-record 10-under 62 on Thursday to win the CIF-SCGA tournament at the SCGA Members Club in Murrieta. A week earlier, he shot par-72 at Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs in the Southern Section individual championships. He qualified for the section finals by shooting five-under 67 at Mesquite Golf Course in Palm Springs to win the Central Regional.

Fowler, who drove the ball more than 300 yards several times Thursday, had 10 birdies on his way to tying the SCGA Members Club course record. He became the first freshman to win the CIF-SCGA title since Tiger Woods of Anaheim Western in 1991.

"Oh, I don't know about comparing me to him," Fowler said with an awkward laugh about similarities to the most famous golfer in the world. "I just wanted to shoot well [that day]. I didn't have any expectations. It will be the same [at state]. I'll just go up there and play my best and whatever happens, happens."

The top six individual finishers and top three teams from Northern and Southern California will compete at the state championships, which had a six-year run from 1976 to 1981.

Fowler will be joined by runner-up Matt Shaw of Fresno Clovis, who shot 68 at the state-qualifying tournament. Also playing will be freshman Sihwan Kim of La Mirada and junior Cameron Tringale of Mission Viejo, who each shot 70 on Thursday.

The toughest competition for the Southland contingent probably will come from junior Eddie Olson of Aptos High, who shot a five-under 66 -- his best round ever -- to finish first in the CIF-NCGA at Spring Creek Golf and Country Club in Ripon on May 24.

Southern Section champion Cerritos Gahr and Santa Barbara San Marcos will field their six-man teams after placing second and third at the CIF-SCGA. Gahr shot 367 to finish three strokes behind two-time tournament winner Torrey Pines, and San Marcos scored 374.

"All season long we've been talking about 'unfinished business,' " said Coach Steve Orr regarding Gahr's ninth-place finish at the Southern Section team finals last year. "Now our mantra is 'focus and finish.' The kids have really risen to the challenge this year and I think they have one more left in them."

Though the Gladiators have clearly been the best team in the section this postseason, they will have their work cut out for them at state. Mountain View St. Francis, led by Kevin Lozares, one of the top seniors in the nation, shot the lowest round in CIF-NCGA history -- 361 -- to win its third title in four years.

The Baylor-bound Lozares posted the second-best score on the day, a three-under 68.

Concord De La Salle, the 2002 CIF-NCGA champion, had four players each shoot one-over 71 to finish second with 362. San Jose Bellarmine took third with 366.

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