Rickie Fowler has received a reputation as someone who can’t close a tournament. Having a 54 hole six times and only converting one, the data backs that up. Yesterday was different. People are saying he backing into the win. He didn’t. He overcame the stigma of someone who can’t close and persevered in circumstances most would crumble.
Known for making big numbers in final rounds and playing himself out of tournaments, Fowler looked like he was going to continue the trend with a horrible break, after a less than stellar shot on the par 4 5th at TPC Scottsdale and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Having laid well back, Fowler’s club was swallowed by the wet, dense rough and ended up behind a plant. Was Rickie about to fold again?
Fowler recovered and played the rest of the front nine at even to make the turn at +2 for the day. He came back with a birdie on the 10th, increasing his lead back to the five strokes, and then disaster struck. The weather was terrible all day. It was cold, for Scottsdale standards, and everything was soaked. Fowler hit a terrible pitch on the 11th hole and the downward spiral began with his pitch going over the green and into the penalty area.
Choosing to drop within two club lengths where it entered the penalty area, that was Fowler’s only mistake. He should have taken stroke and distance. Maybe he forgot that was an option since he dropped rather quick. He dropped. The ball came to rest. Mother nature said, “Nahh, you’re not au rest.” The ball rolled into the hazard with Fowler incurring a second penalty stroke.
Most players would get pissed. Most players would get angry and slam things. Most players would be toast after that. Fowler’s five stroke arriving at the 11th tee turns into a two stroke lead walking off the 11th green. As expected, he bogied the 12th. Rickie’s lead was gone. It was time to Fowler to mail it in and accept his fate as a final round choker and someone who can’t close the deal. Except, that didn’t happen.
Whatever Fowler reached into, he needs to call on that all the time. With back to back pars, he arrived at a hole that is synonymous with his name, the 15th. In 2010, Fowler laid up with just over 200 yards into the hole with his first win with his grasp. He parred the hole and ended up losing the tournament, A few years later he had a terrible break on 17, a poor shot on the hole in a playoff, and the stigma of Fowler not being able to close was born.
Yesterday, Fowler didn’t lay up on the 15th. He went for it and birdied. He pared the magnetic 16th and it was on to another TPC Scottsdale nemesis of his, the 17th. This time the 17th was going to be his. Hitting the most clutch drive of his life, Fowler reached the par 4 in one and two putted for a smooth birdie and headed to 18 with a two stroke lead and sealed the win. Rickie, the choker, was no more.
Rickie Fowler won the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He didn’t back into it. He confronted his demons and conquered them. Many other players would have been done with even the double bogie. Fowler wasn’t. On a day when conditions were poor. When the breaks were going the wrong way. With an insurmountable lead was lost and trailed by one stroke, Rickie Fowler showed fortitude to not let history repeat itself. Like what happened when Fowler was voted “most overrated” by his peers a few years back, let’s hope this springboards him to even bigger ideas… like is first major win about two months away in Augusta.