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Another year, another chance for Fowler at WMPO

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Rickie Fowler has a score to settle with TPC Scottsdale.

For as many good shots as he has hit here over the years, for as many times as he has put a charge into the thousands gathered around the Stadium Course’s closing stretch, Fowler has yet to put all the pieces together.

It was at the 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open that Fowler had one of his best chances for a maiden PGA Tour victory, when he was in hot pursuit of Hunter Mahan. But Fowler raised more than a few eyebrows when he decided to lay up from 230 yards away on the par-5 15th hole during the final round, ultimately settling for par. He lost to Mahan by a shot.

There would be more heartache here in 2016, when Fowler held firm to a two-shot lead with two holes to go. But a bad bounce on the penultimate hole led to an unexpected bogey, and he ended up losing in a four-hole playoff to Hideki Matsuyama.

With family and friends in attendance, including his grandfather who had never seen him win a tournament in person, Fowler left the property in tears.

“This one hurts,” Fowler said at the time. “I mean, it’s going to hurt because I felt like I had it, especially with the way I was swinging.”

He returned last year and again played well, but still couldn’t keep pace with Matsuyama. He tied for fourth, two shots out of a playoff.

Add it up and Fowler has broken par in nine straight competitive rounds at TPC Scottsdale, a streak he ran to 10 Thursday with an opening 66 that briefly gave him a share of the lead as he continues to try to get both hands on an elusive trophy.

“After the first couple years here I just figured it was a matter of time before I was the last one standing on Sunday,” Fowler said. “It’s just a matter of time. I know I can win here, and sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time, or not get a bad kick on 17, but we’re going to get one.”

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That confidence was evident in an opening round that included an eagle on No. 15, a chip-in birdie on No. 18 and just a single dropped shot on the par-71 layout.

Fowler is coming off a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, but he has also missed the weekend at Torrey Pines each of the last two years before contending the following week in the Arizona desert. Not all missed cuts are created equal, and Fowler said that there “wasn’t really much off” about an even-par effort that was one shot too many in San Diego.

It also serves as an outlier among Fowler’s recent results. He opened the year with a T-4 finish at Maui, closed last year with a win at the Hero World Challenge that included a final-round 61 and was a runner-up at Mayakoba in the start before that.

While players like Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm have received more of the attention in recent weeks, Fowler has quietly kept things humming along, business as usual.

“He’s just so consistent,” said Bryson DeChambeau, who finished the round alongside Fowler at 5 under. “That’s definitely one thing that I looked at is his consistency, and his ability to be consistently in contention all the time.”

Fowler’s success at this event perhaps serves as a microcosm for his career in general, one filled with stellar performances and perhaps fewer trophies than expected. But the results have done little to curb his optimism this week on a course where he has piled up birdies by the dozens amid a frenzied atmosphere.

Fowler still plays the role of a young gun, but at age 29 he is now making his 10th straight start in this event. While his name has yet to be etched into the bronzed plaque of past champions and winning scores that sits behind the 18th green, he remains confident that he’ll have a spot on the wall before too long.

“We have been close here a number of times, and I love playing here and the Thunderbirds have been great to me,” Fowler said. “So it would be nice to get ourselves in contention and see if we can be the last one standing on Sunday.”