AUGUSTA, Ga. — He is 28 now, and his career, while impressive, remains one of unmet expectations. Rickie Fowler has teased us but not pleased us. Or most definitely himself.
He was a Ryder Cup star as a rookie in 2010 on a losing American team, making birdies the last four holes to get a half against Edoardo Molinari. Then in 2014, Fowler finished top five in all four of golf’s majors. In 2015 he won the Players Championship. Yet he still doesn’t have a major victory and he missed the cut in last year’s Masters.
But once more Fowler has the opportunity to get that first major. He shot a one-under par 71 on a Saturday at Augusta National, and his 54-hole total of five-under par 211 has him only a shot back of Masters co-leaders Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
He will be paired with Jordan Spieth, a friend and a Masters champion, in Sunday’s final round, and Fowler is delighted. “This is by far the best I’ve felt in a major,” he insisted.
How he feels when the green jacket is awarded is what matters. He has a tie for fifth in 2014, and a tied for 12th in 2015.
“It’s going to be a good time,” he forecast, “and I think the pairings will work out properly. It will be Jordan (a shot behind Fowler) and I going out and having some fun.
“Him and I could potentially get off to a good start, and we could really push each other. We’ll try and pull the best out of one another. It’s always fun when you’re playing with one of your good buddies.”
Fowler is the southern Californian who raced dirt bikes until he got hurt. He gravitated to golf and accepted a scholarship to Oklahoma State. A true millennial, Fowler wears a hat with the bill perfectly flat and dresses himself in bright colors, especially in final rounds when he dons the orange and black of OSU.
He knows the Augusta National. He knows the history. And since this is Fowler’s seventh Masters, he should know the Sunday pin positions and when to take a chance and when to be careful.
“Here you still have to be patient,” he said when asked about needing to be aggressive. “You can’t really try and get too much out of this golf course. But with that being said, even if you’re playing conservative lines, you have to execute. You know, you can put yourself in bad positions, even trying to play to a safe spot.”
The leader board is crowded, with four major champions, Spieth, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel all within three strokes of each other and wanna-be’s Fowler and Sergio Garcia also having found room at or near the top
“I think it’s going to be tough for someone to really run and distance themselves too much,” said Fowler, “with the possibilities of what you can do on the back nine.”
According to the cliche, on that back nine Sunday — with its dangerous water hazards — is where the Masters will be won or lost.
“This is a special place,” he said. “I love any chance I get to come here. This golf course can jump up and bite you any time. I like that about it. Been having a blast all week.”