AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rickie Fowler has an affection for Augusta National.
“To me it’s perfect,” he said on Monday at the Masters. “I love this place just because of how much it allows to you use your imagination. I love putting these greens. … To see different shots and playing from uneven lies, it’s a fun place.”
It has showed in the results. Fowler has a pair of two top-five finishes (along with a T-12 and T-11), including a runner-up last year, in his last five trips to the famed Georgia course. Not that the major-less 30-year-old wouldn’t mind a shot or two back.
A year ago, Fowler began the final round five strokes back of leader Patrick Reed and was one over through his first seven holes. Then he hit the accelerator, pouring in six birdies over his final 11 holes, including a seven-footer on the last, to shoot 67 and get within one stroke of the lead. That’s where he’d stay.
The one he would like back?
“I thought I hit a perfect shot into 17,” he said on Monday. “I thought I was going to have something inside of 10 feet for sure. It pitched just into the false front and ended up just kind of having to settle for 4 and move on to 18.”
What could have been. It feels like we’ve said that a lot about Fowler, who has eight career top-five finishes in major championships, with three of those second-place finishes. In 2014, he finished in the top five of all four majors; only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had done so in the same year, with Jordan Spieth matching the feat in 2015.
But before thinking that Fowler’s best days have past him, consider that Phil Mickelson had endured his share of major heartbreaks and didn’t win his first major until 33, doing so at the 2004 Masters. Lefty has since added four more, including two more green jackets.
Will this be Fowler’s year? Hanging on to win earlier this year in Phoenix—a place he had built up some scar tissue at—certainly didn’t hurt. Neither did shooting 65-67 on the weekend at Augusta 12 months ago.
“Last year was big, just playing well on the weekend,” Fowler said. “Executing that final nine and hitting shots when you're under the gun and in that moment and under all that pressure. I also think that getting a win earlier this year at Phoenix, getting over all the stuff that happened there, yeah, I'm more ready than I’ve ever been.”