Thursday 18 January 2018

Fowler fires rapid response to critics

Rickie Fowler celebrates with girlfriend Alexis Randock after winning The Players Championship at Sawgrass (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
Rickie Fowler celebrates with girlfriend Alexis Randock after winning The Players Championship at Sawgrass (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

Kevin Garside

What better way to stuff the bitter claims of envious golfers up the waste pipes of their sunless zones than with victory to win the biggest prize in golf?

"If there was any question," said Rickie Fowler, stroking the crystal trophy that came with winning the Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday, "I think this right here answers anything you need to know."

Hear, hear. Fowler was referring to a Sports Illustrated poll of fellow professionals last week that tethered him and Ian Poulter to the unflattering title of "most over-rated player on the PGA Tour".

What kind of mean-spirited lizard dreams up this stuff? The anonymity guaranteed in this sort of miserable game does not evince the truth but rather the neuroses of the clinically insecure.

Fowler's poster-boy looks and popularity with sponsors were clearly too much for 24pc of his peers, exasperated that a player with only one PGA Tour victory to his name, claimed three years ago at the Wells Fargo Championship, which is being held this weekend, should generate such fanfare among the galleries, TV studios and commercial investors.

Hype over substance was the thrust of it. And then in the Players he goes and posts four birdies and an eagle in his closing six holes to bag the lead and invite those coming up behind to match him.

Sergio Garcia, who led Fowler by five shots with eight to play, responded, along with Kevin Kisner, to take the tournament to a play-off.

Having birdied the signature par-three 17th four times already during the tournament and twice that day, it was fitting that a fifth strike against par on the island green should deliver Fowler's third professional win.

It was a pure demonstration of a golfer under pressure delivering on the highest stage when the demand was at its height.

Fowler's handsome exterior and easy demeanour belie a steely core. How do these nincompoops imagine Fowler might compile the lowest average finish at the Majors last year without that?

Fifth at the Masters was as poor as it got in a year when he was also runner-up at the US Open and Open, and third at a US PGA Championship he really should have won.

The point is he was good enough to contend. Had the bounce of the ball gone his way when he pushed his five-iron to the right at the par-three 14th while leading on the final day at Valhalla last August he might have been a major champion at 25.

Fate was kind to him when he needed a break at Sawgrass and he is the Players champion as a result.

Success is measured in fractions at this level, but that does not suit golf's green-eyed tendency who see things only in black and white.

Speaking of that US PGA Championship miss, Fowler's caddie Joe Skovron said: "It beat us up. We thought we were going to win that tournament.

"I wholeheartedly believed it, he wholeheartedly believed it. We didn't win it. But that's what golf is.

"That's what makes this so much more special. To do it (like this), it doesn't get any better than that."

Fowler was pleased with his work. "I was always looked at as having only one win on Tour," he said.

"I always felt that I needed to put myself in position to win more often, and I did that last year (but) I wasn't able to end up as the last guy standing. It feels good to be in that position."

Fowler's 2007 Walker Cup team-mate Billy Horschel said: "I don't know what people were thinking about when they thought he was over-rated. He's such a humble guy and such a good guy. He doesn't brag about anything he does."

Not even winning the Players.

"We obviously look at this tournament as one of the biggest that we play up against the Majors," Fowler said.

"This is a special week. Everyone looks forward to it. I''m just happy that I had a chance to get in the play-off and to be here on 17 and get it done."

Fowler's triumph is the perfect boost for the Irish Open, with the American a confirmed competitor for the event, which takes place at Royal County Down from May 28-31.

Fowler formed a close friendship with Rory McIlroy as aspiring amateurs at the Co Down links when they were on opposing sides in the 2007 Walker Cup, which the USA won 12-11 in McIlroy's last appearance before he joined the professional ranks. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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