Even with stumbles, Fowler dominates


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rickie Fowler left us scratching our heads again Sunday at the Honda Classic.

This time we weren’t wondering why he hasn’t won more with all that talent.

We were wondering how he could blow away everyone not looking all that good.

Can you win in a four-shot rout with your D-game?

OK, that might not be fair to Fowler, because PGA National’s Champion Course is one of the toughest regular Tour tests, especially when the wind is up the way it was Sunday, but he made winning ugly something to marvel over.

“It was special to pull it off,” Fowler said. “It wasn’t the prettiest, but this isn't an easy golf course and this wasn't an easy day to go play golf. I just had to fight through it. Mistakes were going to happen. Bad swings were always going to happen. You can't play a perfect round of golf.”

Fowler bogeyed the final two holes, closing with a 1-over-par 71. He put four bogeys and a double bogey on his scorecard. He rinsed his tee shot at the 17th hole, and he still nearly walked away with the best 72-hole score in the 11 years the Honda Classic has been played on the Champion Course. He ended up at 12-under 268, one stroke behind the record Camillo Villegas set winning here in 2010.

In the end, the only numbers Fowler cared about were his updated victory totals. This is his fourth PGA Tour title, his first in 18 months, and his sixth worldwide win, his first anywhere in 13 months.

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“Rickie talked earlier this week about how it’s time for him to step up and get the job done,” Butch Harmon, Fowler’s swing coach, told GolfChannel.com in a telephone interview. “It was a strange way to do it, but a win is a win. He needed it. We talked about this at the beginning of the year, how he needed it to get something going before we go to the Masters. He worked really hard for this, and it paid off.’

Harmon said he wasn’t sure just how hard Fowler was pushing himself to win after failing to follow up his three worldwide titles in 2015 and another early in ’16. Harmon talked to Fowler about it at year’s start.

“I wanted him to work harder and get more serious about it,” Harmon said. “People were saying he had a bad year last year, but he had the lowest scoring average he’s ever had in a year and had a lot of top-10s.

“But he didn’t win. Rickie knows how important it is to win, because that’s what you are judged on. He put a lot of pressure on himself to get a win this year.”

Fellow Tour pros saw that, too.

“I think Rickie needed it, maybe, to get people off his back a little bit,” Justin Thomas said. “It’s just, when you’re at that high level, or that high caliber of a player, people expect so much of you. He’s been playing great golf, and he just hasn’t had that win for year and a half, or whatever it is. So, this is definitely big for him.”

It was the first time Fowler closed out a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event. He was 0 for 4 coming into Sunday.

Fowler was a popular winner.

“This is one of the greatest kids I’ve ever met,” said Jack Nicklaus, who stopped by the NBC TV booth Sunday. “My wife, Barbara, just loves him. Barbara says she is his other mom.”

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth all sent Fowler good-luck texts on Saturday night.

Fowler is projected to move back into the top 10 in the world rankings at No. 9. He made Sunday an adventure for everyone rooting for him.

On the front nine, he looked like he needed a compass, wandering into the trees and through a lot of pine straw chasing one errant tee shot after another. He hit just two fairways.

Four shots at day’s start, Fowler’s lead was cut in half making the turn. Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, turned to his player there.

“This is why you build yourself a lead,” Skovron said. “Are you good?”

Skovron said Fowler wasn’t deterred.

“He was fine,” Skovron said. “He never really wavered.”

Not even when Gary Woodland moved within a shot of Fowler with a birdie at the 13th.

Fowler answered by rolling in a 38-footer for birdie at the 12th and a 23-footer for birdie at the 13th to build back his cushion.

“My putting saved me,” Fowler said. “It was tough out there, and I fought as hard as I could.”

Fowler moved all the way back to four shots up carving a clutch 5-iron from 183 yards to 3 feet to set up birdie at the 16th.

Skovron relished seeing Fowler hoist the crystal trophy after. He knew how much pressure Fowler was feeling to win again.

“He never vocalized it, but common sense will tell you if you don’t get it done a couple times it will wear on you,” Skovron said.

Fowler’s victory figures to move him back in the conversation as a Masters’ favorite with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.

“I just want to play the best that I can," Fowler said, "keep pushing myself and ultimately just keep trying to put myself in position to win and start collecting more of these.”