Rickie Fowler is back at the site of his greatest victory, the one that was supposed to catapult his career.
He returns to the Players Championship with just one PGA Tour win since that dramatic closing performance on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in 2015.
He finished birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to force a playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, and then won on the fourth extra hole. Fowler showed the kind of back-nine resolve that’s been missing too often during his young career.
The 29-year-old Fowler flashed it again during the final round at the Masters last month, making five birdies over the final 11 holes and putting pressure on winner Patrick Reed. But, once again, Fowler came up oh-so short.
“I feel like we’ve had some good chances,” Fowler said Tuesday. “It would have been nice to have a few better finishes. … I feel like we’re in a great spot. Just get a couple things straightened out, minor tweaks, and it will be a fun week.”
Fowler will try to become the seventh to win the Players multiple times, joining Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods. Those six all have something Fowler is still chasing: A major.
“To be talked about as one of the best players or however you want to put it without a major, I think it’s a compliment,” Fowler said. “Obviously I have some work to do to get off that list. I think we’ve done a great job this year of showing that I’m ready to go win a major. …
“I’m ready to go out there and be the last man standing. I think this is a year we have some great chances.”
Between the links-style setup at Shinnecock Hills (U.S. Open) in New York and the always-challenging Carnoustie (British Open) in Scotland, Fowler’s stellar ball-striking should make him one of the favorites.
“It’s time to get myself off that list,” Fowler said.
Close friend and contemporary, Jordan Spieth, a three-time major winner at age 24, believes Fowler’s breakthrough is near.
“If you win here, you can win anywhere else,” said Spieth, who has missed three consecutive cuts at the Players. “There is no added thing that any other tournament brings that this tournament doesn’t have. Therefore, guys like Rickie, who kind of catches some slack for having not won a major yet, essentially he’s won what’s harder to win than a major: The Players.”
The most daunting part of Fowler’s challenge might be his early round grouping.
Fowler will play Thursday and Friday alongside fan favorites Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods , creating a mega group that will garner massive galleries and far more attention than any other. The tight layout of the Stadium Course could create even more chaos.
Fowler said he plans to putt-out as often as possible to avoid “hitting while the circus” is moving to the next hole.
“I’ve got the best seat in the house,” Fowler said. “Not many other people get to walk the fairways. It’ll be fun. … I know it’s going to be crazy out there. I’ve played with both of them plenty of times, so it won’t be anything new by any means. You know, Tiger and Phil are still two of the biggest names in our sport, so they deserve to be talked about. But we’ll see if I can go ahead and get some mentions in there and maybe make myself talked about by week’s end.”
It wouldn’t be the first time for the PGA Tour darling and social media star.
With all eyes on Fowler in that 2015 playoff, he dropped his tee shot at the par-3 17th to 5 feet and made birdie on the famed island green. His only win since came at the 2017 Honda Classic.
“Looking forward to playing well,” said Fowler, who finished tied for 21st last week at the Wells Fargo Championship. “This is a place where we know we can play well at and we know we can win at. So looking forward to building off of last week and see if we can get the putter straightened back out, and we’ll be good to good.”
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