NORTON, Mass. – Rickie Fowler is getting a little weary of all these shadows falling over him.
First there was Rory McIlroy’s with his emergence as the world No. 1 a few years back.
Then Jordan Spieth’s with his major championship run this summer.
And then Jason Day’s this last month or so with his red-hot run.
While not getting himself in the conversation with this trio of young stars in the major championships this summer wasn’t as motivating as being labeled “overrated” in a poll before he won The Players Championship, Fowler is definitely finding fire in his belly again. He said on the eve of the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship that he is driven to join McIlroy, Spieth and Day as the game’s elite new guard.
Fowler, 26, showed Monday he meant it beating Henrik Stenson in a final-round duel at TPC Boston.
“With the three guys that they talk about, Jason, Rory and Jordan, they've clearly played the best out of anyone over the past few months to couple of years,” Fowler said. “So I'm trying to be a small fourth thrown in there. But there are a lot of other really good young players playing well right now, as well.”
Three shots behind Stenson with eight holes to play, Fowler found another gear Monday, the extra gear that helped him win The Players. He showed something overtaking Stenson, a ball-striking machine. Fowler thrived with nerves and pressure building over the back nine. He was bogey free on that back side, watching Stenson make the mistakes that lost the tournament.
Fowler’s 3-under-par 68 gave him a one-shot victory over Stenson for Fowler’s third worldwide victory this year.
While Fowler didn’t break through to win his first major this summer, he has claimed some big prizes against some stellar fields. He won that Players Championship spectacularly in the spring. He won the Scottish Open with a good field prepping for the British Open. Now, he has added a FedEx Cup Playoff title.
Joe Skovron, Fowler’s caddie, said the spectacular way Fowler won The Players resonates.
Fowler played the final 10 holes at TPC Sawgrass in 8 under par. That includes the playoff there. He beat a terrific field on a demanding course with intense final-round pressure.
“I think it frees you up,” Skovron said in the shadow of the TPC Boston clubhouse after Monday’s trophy presentation. “The more you win, the more it frees you up, especially a guy like Rickie, with all the outside pressure. He doesn’t talk about it a lot, but people have been expecting him to do so much, so quick, because of his popularity and everything else. So that kind of freed him up.
“You trust more and more.”
It’s helping Fowler trust he can handle the pressure and the nerves that come with the big moments.
Earlier this week, Davis Love III talked about how Fowler seems built for big moments. Yes, Fowler hasn’t won a major yet, but Love believes Fowler has something that’s going to help him close them out. He’s got the ability to relish all the adrenaline that comes doing so.
Love says that probably goes back to Fowler’s daredevil days in motocross.
“He’s not afraid of that,” Love said. “He relishes that.
“Some guys get tight and timid, but Rickie likes that adrenalin feeling. I think Rickie is one of those guys, if you get him in the hunt, he’s going to do really well. It’s just Thursday morning is boring for him. When Rickie gets focused, he’s really, really good.”
Like Day, Fowler has required extra time harnessing his special skill set. Being a daredevil who loves adrenalin rushes doesn’t automatically translate into closing out tournaments. There’s still a learning curve. It didn’t help Fowler in his failure chasing Tiger Woods in the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill two years ago, when Fowler melted in the moment there, hitting two shots in the water at the 16th and making triple bogey. It didn’t help him in the final round against Woods at the Memorial three years ago, when he shot 84.
Those failures were likely factors in Fowler being voted “overrated” in a media poll of his peers.
With Butch Harmon helping him with his swing, Fowler’s beginning to put together a game now that’s better built for closing out. You don’t revel making dangerous motocross runs until you’ve mastered the bike.
“He sharpens up,” Skovron said of pressure-packed moments. “Some guys, it bothers them.
“We just hadn’t been in those moments a lot. It was always four and five shots back. Now, he’s getting himself in there more. He’s handling it very well.”
Fowler’s learning to handle the big moments in a way that’s going to help him cast his own big shadow.