Rickie Fowler — the orange-clad, homemade-swinging, former motocross-racing, current golf phenom, fan favourite — is finally a winner on the PGA TOUR. On the first playoff hole of the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, Fowler knocked a wedge to four feet and calmly sank the birdie putt for his maiden TOUR victory on a tough Quail Hallow venue over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points. The twittersphere was flooded with well-wishes for Fowler, one of the tour’s most popular young players. The victory can only bode well for Fowler’s major aspirations as Quail Hallow is set to host the PGA Championship in 2017, and arguably, he will have to get past McIlroy in order to win then, too. In the age of instantaneous, well, everything, the golf world seemed to be waiting forever for this victory to come. But, one must remember Fowler’s still only 23 years old. This is only the beginning of a career that is projected to be brighter than his Sunday ensembles.
Rickie vs. Rory: The Kids Are Alright
With all due respect to D.A. Points (or ‘Daaa Points’ as my girlfriend called him on Sunday), the playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship was all about Rickie Fowler vs. Rory McIlroy. The latter already a multiple winner on TOUR, including a major, and the former always having to answer the elephant-in-the-room question about when he would finally break through to win one. That question will no longer need to be asked with Fowler prevailing on Sunday. Fowler is more the Palmer to McIlroy’s Nicklaus than Phil ever was to Tiger because, or so it seems, Fowler and McIlroy actually like each other. It’s impossible to walk a course at a tournament where Fowler is playing without seeing kids – both boys and girls – wearing any selection of Fowler-inspired clothing, I don’t believe there is another player on TOUR who would inspire my girlfriend to high-five me after a victory than Fowler, and rarely do you now hear of anyone (young or old) who doesn’t like McIlroy, too. Hopefully the next time we see these two go at it head-to-head is sooner rather than later, but perhaps at the Ryder Cup would be most appropriate. Youth is served, and the TOUR is reaping the benefits.
The (Eighth) Cut Is The Deepest
I wrote last week that whatever Tiger’s result is at Quail Hallow, no matter what happens, there will be a story following. I was somewhat correct in this assumption, as Tiger ended up missing the cut by one stroke and the questions came back about whether he really was making progress with his swing, or if all of the off-course struggles had finally caught up with him. There was also the story about whether he got a favourable ruling after his ball mysteriously disappeared from the crowd and he was awarded a free drop. He’s back teeing it up this week at The PLAYERS Championship to try again. I don’t think anyone could pinpoint one thing that is wrong with Tiger’s swing that will result in an instant change of fortunes – some forget that he did already win by five strokes at Bay Hill earlier this year – but as he says, “it’s a process” and I believe he just needs to play more tournament golf, forget all the swing thoughts, and just go out and have fun. It certainly looked like as though Rory and Rickie were following this mantra on Sunday.
The tour moves back down south to Florida to the Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass for the 39th playing of The PLAYERS Championship. The famous island green of the 17th hole has inspired many other imitators around the world, but none strike fear into the heart of PGA TOUR pros quite like this one. Although the hole has become no more than a wedge or short iron for TOUR pros of late, it’s an absolute pressure-cooker when you’re hanging onto the lead on Sunday and need to hit such a specific shot. Although criticized for being a ‘gimmick,’ I think it adds something special to the tournament. Tough to pick against McIlroy again to contend this week, despite the fact that he opted to skip the tournament last year. I also like Nick Watney to bounce back after a disappointing Sunday at Quail Hallow and Phil Mickelson who is fresh off of his Hall-of-Fame induction on Monday.