Another Sunday Slips Away for Fowler
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Orange Fowler falters...again

Rickie Fowler had just about everyone pulling for him before the start of the fourth round of the AT&T National, where he was tied for the 54-hole lead with eventual winner Nick Watney. Unfortunately, it only took two holes for those hopes to plummet down the drain when Fowler made a mess on the second hole, quickly falling three shots off the lead. He had plenty of time to compensate for the mistake — 16 holes, to be precise — but he never recovered, only sinking farther down the ‘board.

Fowler turned the first nine, posting a lackluster three-over 38. It seemed like all day he left himself with 5-to-10 footers for birdie and/or to save par. It wasn’t his day with the flatstick, though.

“I just couldn’t get anything going today,” said Fowler after posting a final-round four-over 74. “A little pickup there, but other than that, I really couldn’t get anything to go. I was burning some edges and nothing would fall.”

He dropped out of the top-ten and finished tied for 13th. Disappointing, to say the least.

The always-gracious Fowler didn’t make excuses, but you could tell this one is going to sting a little — more than last year at the Phoenix Open or the Memorial Tournament.

“Just a tough day, but I learned a lot,” he said. “It was great to be in that position. You know, it’s good to see what other guys do in the same situation and how they handle themselves.”

Isn’t that almost verbatim what he said after Saturday’s round? It’s like he’s been programmed to say the “right things.” Sometimes I wish he’d just say, “It sucks, the pressure got to me. I have to improve on that.” Actually, I don’t care what he says as long as he’s being himself.

Since Fowler nearly captured his first win before losing in a playoff in his second professional start in ’09, we’ve had the 22-year-old on a pedestal. He’s become one of the most recognizable faces in American golf (every week, he has a horde of fans — young and old — decked out in PUMA gear following him). He’s America’s young golfing darling.

We’ve been patient with Rickie. We really have. And we’ve been bullish. We’ve made excuses for him — he’s young (which he is), he’s inexperienced, give him time, etc. And he’s just such a nice kid, so grounded and likable. We can’t help but cheer for him to do well.

I feel like any other player, regardless of age and talent, would have caught more slack by now for not living up to all those great expectations. Is it fair? Not necessarily. But with the big endorsement deals, the flashy clothes and the hype shoved into our faces since day one, it comes along with the territory.

But is Rickie overhyped?

Good question. Well, who isn’t? Just about every hot, young star is from the get-go and very few are able to live up to it. As of now, Rickie remains unproven (the clutch Ryder Cup singles performance doesn’t count — well, it counts for team competition, but not for official worldwide individual tour win).

I know he has a lot of pressure and expectations to live up to, but champions rise to the occasion. Now I’m not saying he’s not going to win 50 times and won’t go on to have an illustrious career.

Rickie has to start learning to close. His final-round scoring average is a mediocre 71.60 shots this season, ranking him T112. I think we all want to give him another break and say, his time will come soon, but let’s hope he can get that first-win monkey off his back soon.

You know, like Rory McIlroy post-Masters, US Open-win style. Or like Nick Watney did today.

“(Nick) did go out there and get it done,” said Fowler. “I knew someone was going to have to play well to win. Four-under was a great score and he made some putts.”

(AP Photo/Barbara Johnston)