As cliche as it may be, timing is everything, isn’t it? Earlier in the week, in an anonymous survey conducted by Sports Illustrated, PGA Tour pros labeled Rickie Fowler (and Ian Poulter) as the most overrated players in golf, with both receiving 24% of the vote.
Fowler responded by winning the Tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship, in a playoff against Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner.
The 26-year-old American played his last six holes in regulation at TPC Sawgrass six under, including a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish, to post a five-under 67 in the final round.
“I was quite a ways out of it going into No. 12, really,” said Fowler. “That was really probably the biggest turning point for me. I had an awkward lie in the fairway bunker and just tried to hit a shot and it worked out, made par, and really got moving from there, birdieing 13. I knew after, let’s see, 14, I made a great shot to make 4 there. That was well from the right rough. The last four holes, I said, let’s try and birdie the last four, so I one-upped myself.”
Fowler, who finished top-5 in all four majors last season, had a long wait with the clubhouse lead before Garcia and Kisner — who had a 10-footer on the 18th in regulation that somehow didn’t go in the hole, burning the edge — tied him at 12-under.
“Well, obviously, (I was playing) against two great players — Kisner hasn’t been out here very long, but he’s a solid golfer, and Sergio, obviously, you don’t have to talk much about him, he can play,” said Fowler. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I made some good swings, probably my best swing was on 17.”
The three players embarked on a three-hole aggregate playoff (16, 17 and 18), which was the first time it was implemented at the tournament. The trio carded pars on the par-5 16th. Kisner and Fowler had similar putts that they made in regulation on the famed par-3 17th and from 12 feet and 6 feet, respectively, which they both drained. After three more pars on the challenging par-4 18th, Garcia was eliminated and Fowler and Kisner continued to the par-3 17th for a sudden death playoff.
Once again, Kisner knocked it to about 12 feet, but Fowler bettered it, hitting a dart to five feet. Kisner stepped up to his birdie putt first and missed, leaving Fowler with the stage and the chance to capture the biggest victory of his career — and he holed it.
“I knew Kisner was going to hit a good shot,” said Fowler afterwards. “He made a great swing in there, he’s been swinging it great. And he hit a good shot. He got a little bit of a tough break when it landed on the down slope and kicked forward. I knew he was going to have a chance to make that putt, he’s been rolling it good. So I had to take advantage of my opportunity there.”
Fowler, who is currently playing on his sixth season on the PGA Tour, had only recorded one previous victory at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, where he also prevailed in a three-man playoff against D.A. Points and Rory McIlroy. While he put on a great showing at the majors last year, recording four top-5 finishes, winning The Players Championship is by far the biggest win of his career.
“It’s amazing,” said Fowler when asked about his win. “We obviously look at this tournament as one of the biggest that we play up against the majors. This is a special week. Everyone looks forward to it. Just happy that I was, that I had a chance after my finish this afternoon to get in the playoff and to be here on 17 and get it done.”
Asked if he had ever closed in such spectacular fashion as he did Sunday, Fowler had to reminisce on his junior golf days.
“I think the one that I look back to is one of my memorable finishes, I have to go back to junior golf,” he said. “I birdied four of my last five holes at the Western Junior. So, it’s been awhile. So it was about time.”
Oh, so about that whole overrated thing?
“If there was any question, I think this right here answers anything you need to know,” Fowler quipped as he gestured at The Players Championship trophy. “I would say this is a pretty big one. So I’m happy about the week. This will be one I’ll look back on for sure.”
In your opinion *is* Fowler overrated?