It doesn’t do Rickie Fowler, or any player, any good to get hung up on the ones that got away. Analyse and move on.
But Fowler knew that he needed to start closing out tournaments when he had the opportunity to win. He said as much earlier last week, and the questions were starting to mount and with it the pressure from having been 0-for-4 in his career on the US PGA Tour when leading after 54 holes.
This morning, Australian time, he answered them, shooting a wild one-over 71 to win the Honda Classic by four over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland for Fowler’s first victory anywhere in 13 months.
“It’s special to be able to pull it off, and it wasn’t the prettiest of ways to do it, but this isn’t an easy golf course and this wasn’t an easy day to go play golf on,” Fowler said. “Mistakes were going to happen. Bad swings were always going to happen. You can’t play a perfect round of golf.”
With a four-shot lead at the start of the day, it didn’t have to be. Still, it wasn’t easy.
After a birdie on the par-5 third, Fowler gave the shot right back on the next hole, making bogey after putting from off the green and into a sprinkler head.
Two holes later, he pulled his tee shot into the water and went on to make double-bogey.
By the time he bogeyed the ninth – another yanked tee shot that was saved from the water this time by pinestraw left of the fairway – the lead was down to three before Woodland trimmed it to one with birdies on 11 and 13.
Fowler didn’t panic.
“It’s nine holes of golf,” he said. “I needed to make it as simple as possible, go hit fairways and greens, no unforced errors.”
He did better than that, pouring in a 38-footer from the back of the 12th green to go back up by two and then three with another from 23 feet at 13. After having hit just two of seven fairways over his first nine holes, Fowler hit five-of-seven on the back nine.
The lead eventually ballooned to five before he came out of his tee shot and found the water at the difficult par-3 17th but by then it was just semantics.
“It was very important,” Fowler’s coach Butch Harmon said via telephone of the victory. “We had talked about it at the start of the year, we talked about the importance of winning, what he needed to do to get better in order to win.
“You’re judged by winning, by how much you win, where you win, who you beat, how many majors you win. Rickie took a lot of criticism that wasn’t really justified, but you don’t win for a while you hear negative things.”
Harmon played golf with Fowler at the nearby Floridian Golf Club the Friday before the Honda and liked what he saw from his pupil. The two talked about how well Fowler looked earlier this month in Phoenix, where he shot a final-round 65 to tie for fourth. It gave him a tonne of confidence coming into this week.
“I think common sense would tell you if you don’t get the job done a couple times it’s going to wear on you,” said Fowler’s caddie Joe Skovron.
Added Justin Thomas, who missed the cut at PGA National but was practising at the nearby Bear’s Club when he jumped in his car and headed to the tournament to congratulate his good friend at the finish: “I think he needed it to get people off his back a little. He’s been playing great golf but hadn’t had the win to show for it the last year or so. It’s definitely big for him.”
“I say this with all of my guys,” Harmon said. “Everything we do is pointed toward the majors and peaking for them.”
The Masters is less than six weeks away.