Wednesday 21 March 2018

American idol has x-factor

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY probably would forget a runner-up finish in a far-flung event like the Kolon Korea Open quicker than he'd be able to spend the modest $81,662 cheque he picked up in Seoul.

Yet Sunday's second place, six strokes behind Rickie Fowler at Woo Jeong Hills, is one the Holywood star might come to regard almost as significant a watershed in his own career as it is for the man who beat him.

Like McIlroy, Fowler is a gifted 22-year-old golfer with the weight of a continent's expectations bearing down on him. His maiden victory, after just over two years as a professional, represents a rite of passage for the young Californian.

Having won in the company of Major champions like McIlroy and 2009 US PGA winner YE Yang, albeit in Korea, Fowler on Sunday took one giant step closer to fulfilling his potential.

He and McIlroy are good friends but their development into lifelong rivals, hopefully as inspirational to each other as Palmer and Nicklaus or Nicklaus and Watson, will be vital to the future well-being of their sport.

With every respect to master craftsmen like Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, neither they nor recent Major winners like Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen or even Charl Schwartzel, have the charisma to reignite the torch dropped by Tiger Woods.

McIlroy's thrilling march to victory at June's US Open in Congressional showed he has that X-Factor. It's only a matter of time before the Ulsterman acquires the maturity and mental toughness to become one of golf's men for all seasons.

Fowler stayed at college in Oklahoma and in amateur golf two years longer than McIlroy, electing instead to represent the US for a second time at the Walker Cup in 2009, so his battle-hardening has been correspondingly slower.

Yet so impressive was Fowler as he stormed into sudden death in only his second PGA Tour event, the 2009 Open, then followed that up with runner-up finishes at Phoenix and the Memorial in 2010, he was named US Rookie of the Year, controversially at the expense of Quail Hollow-winner McIlroy.

Certainly, Fowler was magnificent as a captain's pick at last year's Ryder Cup, especially on Sunday at Celtic Manor as he came from four down through 12 and three down with three to play to plunder a fighting half from Edoardo Molinari with a swashbuckling four-birdie finish.

Even more striking was his performance on Saturday at Royal St George's last July, when Fowler utterly eclipsed playing companion McIlroy by five strokes as he compiled an astonishing 68, arguably the best round of the British Open, in truly appalling conditions.


Fowler finished tied-fifth at Sandwich and now that he knows how to win, one awaits with bated breath next April's confrontation with McIlroy at The Masters.

Yes, we were all on the edge of our seats watching the polished and unflappable Bryce Molder (32) become the 14th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season as he eclipsed brave Briny Baird on the sixth extra hole at Sunday's Open.

Baird (39) has now gone 348 events on the PGA Tour without a victory. With a staggering $12.5m prize-money won in 11 years, he remains the highest-earning, non-winner on the US circuit, just ahead of Brett Quigley ($11m) and England's Brian Davis, who has amassed $9.3m since 2005.

Though Fowler's success was far removed from Molder's in dollars and raw prestige, one expects this gifted young man's coming of age will be of greater significance to the future of golf.

Irish Independent

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