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Rickie Fowler's win over match-play stalwart Ian Poulter feels like a "stepping stone"

By Stephen Hennessey

MARANA, Ariz. -- Rickie Fowler doesn't mind being the underdog. Actually he prefers it.

Fowler went into his opening match against Ian Poulter, who Fowler referred to as a "match-play legend," without putting any pressure on himself -- even after missing three straight cuts over the last month. The 24-year-old never trailed in Wednesday's match, and sealed the 2-up win on the 17th hole with a halve to beat Poulter, who previously owned a 22-11 record in the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

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"This feels like a stepping stone in a way for me getting back on track," Fowler said.

"Obviously it's nice to get a win against anyone, but Poulter is probably one of the most well-known match-play players."
   

Fowler started working with Butch Harmon full time in November, and he's been encouraged by his swing despite not getting results -- something he blames on his putter.

The stats back it up. Fowler ranks 176th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting this season. But he is 76th in greens in regulation and 62nd in ball striking.

It must seem like a far cry for Fowler, who recalled hitting shots thin and fat on the range after missing the cut at last year's British Open. That was the first time he asked Butch to take a look at his swing. He recalled feeling a bit scared after that.

"It's tough when you don't get any immediate results," Fowler said. "You have to suffer through missing cuts."

Related: Rickie Fowler hungry to get back in the winner's circle

Fowler worked with Harmon two weekends ago before Riviera, and thought he struck the ball well despite missing the cut at the Northern Trust. He's been keeping in close touch with Butch, sending him text messages and video of his swing.

Rickie's second-round match will be against a fellow Butch pupil, Jimmy Walker, who Fowler referred to as "the hottest golfer on the planet."

"It's sort of misleading that Jimmy's not a No. 1 seed," Fowler said. "It's like a mis-seeding."

Fowler said he'd be talking to Butch today, and was looking forward to asking him about  tomorrow's match: "We'll see who Butch is rooting for."