Sentry Tournament of ChampionsJanuary 4, 2018

Rickie Fowler bringing optimism, loftier goals, including winning a major, into new year

Cliff Hawkins

Rickie Fowler plays a shot during the pro-am prior to the Sentry Tournament of Champions. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Rickie Fowler makes just his third start in the Sentry Tournament of Champions today and some people might be inclined to say that a player of his caliber with eight seasons under his belt should have more at the Plantation Course at Kapalua by now.

One of them is Rickie Fowler.

“You earn your spot here at this tournament, and it's a great way to start the year,” said Fowler, whose four career PGA Tour titles, including last year’s Honda Classic, have come in only three seasons. “Unfortunately, I haven't made it here as much as I would have liked to. I should have won more last year.”

Winning is hard, and fields are deeper. Among the 34 players in attendance this week, only nine players were here a year ago.

Making the press conference rounds Wednesday was a question about the possibility of a player today having an eight- or nine-win season. Tiger Woods had four seasons of seven or more victories. Vijay Singh in 2004 mustered nine victories. Since 2010, the most wins by any one player is five—Woods in 2013, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day in 2015, and Justin Thomas, the defending champion at Kapalua, last year.

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Fowler’s biggest season was 2015, when he won the Players Championship and Deutsche Bank Championship as well as the Scottish Open on the European Tour.

“It’s definitely not impossible to have an eight- or nine-win season. I would love to do it,” Fowler said with a grin. “Five and six is a pretty special year. You get past that mark, just go hang up the clubs and go hang at the beach.”

Garden variety wins would be welcome, but Fowler, who turned 29 last month, has his sights set on the bigger prizes, and he makes no secret of that fact. He had his chances a year ago, posting T-5 finishes in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship and a T-11 at the Masters. Three years earlier he finished in the top-five in all four majors, suggesting he was ready to take that step. So now he feels overdue, especially when spring-break pals Spieth and Thomas are in the club.

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“Goals going forward this year are, I would say, the biggest and main one is get a major,” he said flatly. “I think I did a good job last year of putting myself in contention multiple times, but there needs to be some better weekends to make sure that we're on top come Sunday afternoon. So that's the main goal this year.”

Too bad the first one, the Masters, is months away, because Fowler arrives at Kapalua with some momentum. After a strong effort at the Presidents Cup, he finished second in his only official start in the fall at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Then he submitted a blistering final-round 61— featuring seven straight birdies to start—to win the Hero World Challenge.

He’s got the tools, and he’s got the talent. Now, can he carry it over? The quest begins at 12:20 p.m. (HST) as he plays alongside Hideki Matsuyama.

“I feel like I can kind of build off of playing well through some down time and not necessarily putting a lot of time into the golf game,” he said, noting that he needs to work off his holiday diet. He’s also fighting a head cold. “Obviously, there's been probably more so just thinking about it and thinking about what was done well in Mexico and at Tiger's [event] and how we just worked our way around. And maybe not playing my best golf or not being the tightest after some time off, I think it's a great position to be in.”

Statistically, his previous season was one of his best. He was pleased with his consistency, which produced 10 top-10 finishes and 16 top-25s in 21 starts. So, when he was asked what it would take for him to win this week—after T-5 and T-6 in his other appearances—he ultimately summed it up with this telling thought, and it had nothing to do with stats or shot making.

“I have to stay out of my own way and I'll be OK,” he said.

Probably a decent game plan for the entire year.


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