Rickie Fowler has learned how to contend. Coming off a breakthrough summer, he also knows how to win. Now comes the hard part - carving out a consistent spot among the game's elite.
Fowler is headlining the field this week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, his first appearance at the Tour's annual stop in Las Vegas since 2010. At No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he is the highest-ranked player at TPC Summerlin.
After going nearly three years without a win, Fowler broke through for a playoff victory at the Players Championship in May and followed that with two more worldwide wins. Heading into his first start of the new season, he hopes to increase the frequency of his leaderboard appearances.
"I think the main goal is to win a major, and to continue winning. It would be nice to be a little more consistent," he said Wednesday. "I didn't get off to the greatest of starts last year, but I definitely capitalized when I put myself in position to win. So a lot of positives, but I still want to continue to get better and like I said, consistency is the big key."
Fowler had long been viewed as a can't-miss prospect, but he took giant strides in 2014 with top-five finishes in all four majors. That progress led to a three-win season this year.
But amid the high finishes, there were also some surprising off weeks. Still working through a swing change with instructor Butch Harmon, Fowler missed seven cuts in a 14-start stretch during the spring of 2014. Even this past year, he followed his win at TPC Sawgrass with a pair of missed cuts, including a disastrous opening-round 81 at the U.S. Open.
In both instances, though, the 26-year-old closed the season with ample momentum, and he hopes to avoid a slow start out of the gates this time around. According to Fowler, progress has been made both with his mechanics and with his mentality.
"I feel like with the golf swing, I know what I'm bringing to the course. Things are a lot more efficient, a lot less feel-oriented," he said. "If I'm not hitting it the way I want to, things are easier to fix. It's minor changes.
"With playing well last year, building a lot of confidence with the wins, that has built even more confidence in how I feel coming down the stretch."
Fowler is just two weeks removed from a middling performance at the Presidents Cup, and he admitted that his game remains rusty: "I don't have my best right now," he said. But Fowler has played well at TPC Summerlin before, including a T-7 finish in 2009, and he is using this week as a chance to meet with Harmon and make sure that he will hit the ground running when the season begins in earnest in January.
He'll play this week and again next month in China before a prolonged break, but he joked Wednesday that there truly is no offseason in golf.
Instead, it's one extended attempt to build upon momentum while chasing ever-loftier goals. Fowler's happen to be a little more within reach thanks to the progress he has already made.
"My goals have always been to win, to be in contention, to win majors, to ultimately be the best player in the world," he said. "But over the last two years, I've just built more belief and more confidence in accomplishing those."