Rickie Fowler electrifies the fans -- and silences the critics -- with his win at the Players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A 10-year-old kid summed up what most of the fans at TPC Sawgrass were thinking on Sunday evening.
"Now, instead of watching Martin Kaymer or Matt Kuchar, we'll see Rickie win."
To youngsters, Rickie Fowler needs just one name to be identified, unlike the previous two Players champs. But his supporters extend well beyond the children decked out in orange shirts and flat-brim caps.
First, fellow players like Bubba Watson, Billy Horschel and Zach Johnson rushed over to congratulate and encourage Fowler. Then fans young and old chanted his name on No. 17 in the playoff. They chanted it again as he walked the tunnel to the 18th tee. And most importantly, they chanted it when he finally won on perhaps the wildest day in the history of golf's unofficial fifth major.
"I've been waiting a long time for this. Back in the winner's circle," said Fowler, whose lone previous PGA Tour win came three years ago at the Wells Fargo Championship. "It hasn't sunk in yet, and I'm sure it won't sink in for awhile. That finish was pretty fun."
Yes it was. Fowler made a back-nine comeback in the final round that will go down in PGA Tour lore. Scratch that, it was a back-six rally. Even his mom and sister had given up on him, going to the airport and checking their bags before realizing what was unfolding and hurrying back in time for the playoff.
"I made it worth their while," Fowler grinned.
But back to regulation, Fowler played those final six holes in a blistering six under, including a tournament-record birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish which electrified the Stadium Course crowd. But he quickly broke away from his friends, fans, and even his girlfriend to go to the practice range in case of a playoff.
That's where the 10-year-old led a gaggle of young fans following Fowler's every move despite the drama still unfolding on the course. "We'll see Rickie win," he said. Wait, is that kid psychic?
Fowler did win, but first he still had to overcome Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in extra holes. He also had to overcome the "overrated" label he'd gained thanks to a recent poll of his peers. Or maybe that wound up helping? Fowler downplayed the poll all week long, but the timing of this victory had to be particularly satisfying.
"I was always looked at as only having one win on tour, and I always felt that I needed to put myself in position to win more often, and I did that last year," Fowler said. "I wasn't able to end up as the last guy standing. It feels good to be back in that position, and I'm hoping to be back in the same position more often."
What certainly helped was Fowler's ability to turn golf's most intimidating hole into his own personal pitch-and-putt. He birdied it Thursday. He birdied it Friday. He birdied it Sunday. Then he birdied it again. And again. Five birdies in six tries? That would be a fantastic free-throw percentage.
"I play this hole well and I had a great number back there," Fowler said. "It was just a choke gap wedge and it started to play a little longer during the playoff than it did in regulation, but still the same club, and I hit three great shots in there."
The last one was particularly daring. Fowler flew his shot right of the already very-right perilous pin placement. It settled less than five feet away and he converted for the biggest win of his life. The pairing of Rory McIlroy, 26, and Jordan Spieth, 21, and their potential rivalry dominated the talk early in the week. But now Fowler, 26, has put his name back in the conversation of great young stars after this win followed up top-five finishes in all four majors last year.
"If there was any question," Fowler said when asked about the poll, "I think this right here answers anything you need to know."