Finally, Fowler!


Since he was a boy, Rickie Fowler, now 23, has been a star in whatever universe he found himself.  On the junior golf circuit.  Or a dirt bike.  At Oklahoma State.  On the Walker Cup team.  Or in Wales at the 2010 Ryder Cup.

On Sunday, Fowler's star shone as brightly as his "juice" orange outfit, the way everyone expected it eventually would.  In his 67th PGA Tour start, he won a sudden death playoff over fellow 23-year-old phenom Rory McIlroy and veteran D.A. Points of Pekin, Ill. to earn his first PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.

And when it was over, it was as if golf fans and the TV networks everywhere exhaled all at once, relieved and excited that one of the game's more charismatic young players proved he has substance to back up his remarkable style.  

Fowler sported his trademark Sunday garb of bright orange slacks, shirt, and a white rapper-style cap over an organized mess of what passes for long hair on Tour.  On the first hole of sudden death - the 18th - Fowler used a 51-degree gap wedge to hit his 133-yard second shot four feet under the cup.  Take that, Rory.

The shot electrified the crowd and put dashing young Rickie in position to birdie the first playoff hole - and only the fifth birdie there all day. After Points and McIlroy made solid pars on the difficult hole, Fowler, left hand low on his Scotty Cameron mallet, drilled his putt into the heart of the cup to seal the victory and, hopefully, begin to carve his legacy in the game.

"I didn't want to play it safe," Fowler said later. "I had a good number (yardage) and I was aiming right of the hole with the wind coming out of the right..I hit the perfect shot at the right time.  And I was going for it."  

That kind of swagger combined with his athleticism and style is why Fowler is a mix of Arnold Palmer and Justin Bieber, with an appeal to golfers and non-golfers of all ages.  His final round 3-under 69 was his answer to any lingering doubts that the former OSU Cowboy might have been "all hat, no cattle."

McIlroy, who coincidentally recorded his first PGA Tour victory at Quail Hollow in 2010, gave props to a player he expects to be battling for years to come.

"You wouldn't call the 18th today a birdie hole with that pin," the gracious Northern Irishman said.  "For Rickie to go out and play that hole the way he did, he deserved to win."  McIlroy shot 2-under par 70 Sunday and missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation that would have won it for him.  He did regain his spot as No. 1 player in the world on the Official World Golf Rankings, as Luke Donald, who'd been No. 1, didn't play this week.

Points, 35, a solid Tour veteran who played college golf at Illinois, was proud of his play. And rightly so.

"I lost in a playoff," Points said.  "I played really well all week...But [I was told] I went, like, 40 holes without a bogey, so obviously, I was doing a lot right."

He was complimentary to his meteoric young playing partners, both of whom stand 5-foot 9 and weigh 150-160 pounds.

"It's wonderful for the game of golf," Points said of Fowler's win.  "I'm so happy for Rickie.  I'm so happy for golf and the PGA Tour, because [Fowler] is, honest to goodness, a good kid and I really like being around him.  He's got tremendous talent.  He deserves all the pub and he certainly deserves this win...The shot he hit was spectacular."

Points  attributed his own improvement to work with instructor Kevin Smeltz.  Smeltz helped him learn to be more consistent with a "fade" ball flight.  "That's half the battle for us out here, hitting it straight with a little bleed is what I like to see, and that's what I was doing really well this week," Points said.

As for his putting, Points said, "The last two days I hit it really nice and was a little bit tentative with the putter...I don't feel bad about that because these greens are really difficult and and it's hard to be too aggressive."

True to his word, Points remained relatively loose during the final round by increasing his interaction with the crowd.  "I like giving high fives and talking to people," Points said.  "A lot of times there's just not that many people there when I'm playing, so it was nice to have some people to talk to."

Fowler had come close before.  He earned rookie-of-the-year honors in 2010 and played on the Ryder Cup team.  In 2011, he tied for second at Firestone and tied for fifth at the British Open at Royal St. George's.  His first professional victory came in October of last year at the Kolon Korea Open on the OneAsia Tour when he beat McIlroy by six strokes.

So, while it took Fowler 67 starts to get his first win on Tour, no one figures he'll have to wait that long to get No. 2.



MAGIC HAPPENS HERE

AUGUST 8-14