Rickie Fowler broke through for his first professional victory at the Kolon Korea Open on the OneAsia Tour. He didn’t just win — he dominated the field, beating the closest competitor, U.S. Open champ and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy, by a massive six shots. Fowler led by as many as ten, but a charging McIlroy fired 29 on the back nine and the American dropped two shots coming in with two bogeys.
The field also included ’09 PGA champ Y.E. Yang and young rising star Seung-yul Noh.
Fowler shot a final-round three-under 68 to total 16-under for the tournament.
“It was a lot of fun. I played well early on in the final round and then I was comfortable over the last few holes. Overall, I enjoyed the whole week,” Fowler told reporters.
“It feels great to have the first win. I played well all week, although I did have to hang in on Friday and post a score. But on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday I had good control of my ball, I drove well, and I made some putts.”
While Rickie is only a 22-year-old, he’s been on the pro circuit for two years. He’s one of the most popular American players, with his flashy PUMA gear, and all-orange Sunday get-up. He was a captain’s pick on the Ryder Cup last year, where he showed grit by coming back four holes with four to play to halve his singles match against Italian Edoardo Molinari. He captured 2010 Rookie of the Year honors on the PGA Tour.
But Fowler was missing one very important accolade on his resume for a player who receives as much attention as he does: a professional win.
Now he’s rid of that monkey on his back. Say what you want about it coming on the Asian Tour — Rickie just needed to win. Anywhere. It’s no secret he doesn’t have the best scoring average on Sundays when he’s been in contention.
Here’s a compilation of Rickie’s weekend scores through the beginning of June, via Palm Beach Post
Fowler opened with 65 at Torrey Pines, but closed three days later with 74 to tie for 20th; shot a 9-under 62 in the second round in Phoenix, but was 3-under the next two days to tie for 13th; shot 68-66 on the weekend at Doral, but open 73-71 on his way to an eight-place finish – his only top 10 in 2011 during a stroke-play event; shot 78, with three 7s, on Sunday at Bay Hill; opened 70-69 at the Masters, but shot 76-74 on the weekend; and opened with 63 at Colonial, but was 3-over the next three days.
When he closed with a 66 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to finish second, I thought it was a good sign and maybe the start of something. A few weeks later he was in that position at the Deutsche Bank Championship and shot 77.
“I’m happy with the way I have played on the PGA Tour, but I have never shot low enough to win,” he added. “This week I played well for four rounds which I have not been able to do in the past.”
There’s never been a doubt that Fowler has incredible talent, but the tradeoff was facing higher-than-usual expectations. He’s handled those probing questions quite well about his dismal Sunday scores.
Some naysayers will argue that he won against a weak field. My response? Who cares! I think winning a tournament — it could have been a mini-tour event — was the most important thing for Rickie.
Now it’s not easy to win and there are players who never win or take even longer. For example, former teen prodigy Kevin Na said he had nightmares of coming in second, but after eight years of trying, he finally notched his first victory on the PGA Tour last week in Vegas.
When hyped players join the Tour, they’re expected to win almost right away — fair or not (we can blame Tiger for that) — and when it doesn’t happen, I think it becomes even harder mentally and some guys develop a stigma for their inability to close or finishing second.
“I am looking forward to some time off and then I can look at everything and set some goals for next year,” he said. “I will play mainly on the PGA Tour next year and I would like to get my first win there, and this win will definitely help me achieve that.
“I also haven’t made the Tour Championship in the last two years, so that is another goal for next year. But the biggest goal is to make sure I make the Ryder Cup team.”
Many congrats to Rickie and Joe Skovron (his caddie)!
(AP Photo/Yonhap, Yang Young-suk)