Rickie finds old form ahead of Old Course
By Stephanie Wei under European Tour

Rickie Fowler’s brilliant late-birdie surge landed him his second victory of the year, capturing the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open by a shot over fellow American Matt Kuchar and Frenchman Raphael Jaquelin. For most of the day, Fowler struggled to find any momentum in the tough scoring conditions with strong winds at Gullane Golf Club.

After making bogey on no. 14, Fowler was one-over for the day, but then he rose brilliantly to the occasion late on with three birdies in the last four, including one on the par-4 18th, where he knocked a sand wedge to less than two feet for birdie. Clutch. Turned out to be the difference between an outright win and a three-man playoff.

“I knew going into 14, exactly where I stood and I had been playing the last four holes well all week,” said Fowler. “I knew 14 was playing tough, and just mis-hit a drive and made it tough to make par there. It was a minor setback.

“I just really went into the last four just trying to birdie them all. I made some great swings, and then just missed on 17. But that swing at the last, I hit a really good drive down 18, as I did yesterday, and was able to feed off of that and hit a wedge in there nice and close. I didn’t have to think about the putt too much. Just had to make sure that I concentrated on it and make sure it was in the bottom.”

Fowler ended a three-year victory drought with a big come-from-behind win at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, in May. It was by far the most significant of his career. He captured the title in somewhat of a similar fashion, with clutch shots and big putts on the last four holes to rally his way into the winner’s circle.

“I knew the last four — a very similar setup to The Players, going (par) 4, 5, 3, 4,” said Fowler. “So I knew that I was going to have to make some birdies. Obviously 11(-under) was posted and guys were playing well and guys were going to probably make birdies coming in, too.

“I went into the last four, just like I did at The Players, try to make four birdies and just made good swings and I did just that. I really didn’t miss a shot, except a drive on 16, a little left of where I wanted to. But I really hit some good putts, 15, 16; 17, hit a good putt and just missed low and then saved the best swing for 18. (It was) very similar to (coming) down the stretch at The Players.”

Following the win at TPC Sawgrass, Fowler proceeded to miss the cut in the next two starts at Memorial and the U.S. Open (who could forget that 81, where Tiger Woods “kicked Rickie’s butt” in the first round at Chambers Bay). Which was a bit of a buzzkill, especially considering the amazing summer (not to mention season) Fowler had at the majors last year, finishing top-5 at all four — including a T2 at the Open and T3 at the PGA Championship. Now, with this win at the Scottish Open, Fowler has played his way back into the conversation and surely as a favorite to contend at the Open at St Andrews.

“I felt really good coming down the stretch,” said Fowler. It was nice to be back in contention again, and I’m excited about where the game is at. I have a few things we need to straighten out before Thursday, but I’m very excited about next week now.”

Fowler placed tied for eighth at the Scottish Open last year before going on to give Rory McIlroy a bit of a run at the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool. The finish helped kickstart Fowler’s memorable summer, where he only finished outside the top 10 in seven starts once for the rest of the season.

More Americans and PGA Tour players have started to come across the pond a week early and play in the Scottish Open, which is now only contested on links courses, as part of their preparation for the Open Championship. Phil Mickelson has been a regular at this tournament for years as he likes to play the week before a major and what better way to get ready for links golf than a warm-up on a similar type of track in the same time zone. The trend has gained traction ever since Mickelson won the Scottish Open and Open Championship in consecutive weeks in 2013.

“This week, coming over early, and having a chance to play in Scotland against a great field the week before The Open, getting adjusted and seeing where the game is and seeing how it feels on a links golf course, it definitely does a lot for me heading into next week,” said Fowler. “There are some Americans coming over and using this as a preparation tool. Some don’t but every guy has to kind of make their own decisions for what’s best for them.

“Last year it was definitely a good start. Come here, had a good finish and went on to have a good finish at The Open. I’m really looking forward to St. Andrews this coming week, coming off of this win and how my game feels.”

For the second year in a row, Fowler will head into the oldest major with added confidence and solid preparation. He’s keen to get the major monkey off his back, particularly with the Open being held at St Andrews.

“Probably the only thing that would be more special than this would be winning next week,” said Fowler, who placed T14 in his Open debut at St Andrews in 2010. “But winning on a links golf course in Scotland, the Home of Golf, is a special week. I beat some pretty good players out there today. The guys were on top of their games. I didn’t see many scores being under par with the way the wind was blowing, so it was going to be a tough test of golf. I’m definitely proud of how I finished.”

While the buzz since the U.S. Open has largely been centered around the ever-growing Rory McIlroy-Jordan Spieth rivalry, Fowler, 26, another young star yet hasn’t seemed to reach his potential, has understandably been overlooked in that conversation, but perhaps this week’s victory has at least gained him a position at the edge of the table. Obviously, with McIlroy being unable to defend his title due to a freak injury last week, there might be more focus or an attempt to turn the storyline to a Fowler-Spieth match-up.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do, but this is definitely a step in the right direction and a nice win to go into next week,” said Fowler. “Jordan’s been playing some incredible golf and fun to see.

“I’m very excited to win The Scottish Open and hopefully moving forward, and looking forward to having a great week next week. You never know, down the road, there could be some good battles with Rory, Jordan, me. There’s a lot of good, young players right now. So it’s hard to really not talk about everyone else, too.”