Rickie Fowler back in Austin for first time since 2016
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Out of slump and back in the field at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s coming.
Rickie Fowler made a calculated gamble when he made coaching and caddie changes at the end of last season. And while no one could say for sure how it would go, Fowler had a good feeling. He saw good shots coming off his clubs and kept telling anyone who asked: “It’s coming.”
Today, out of his slump and preparing for the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, his first start here since 2016, he’s made good on his prediction.
“I knew what I was capable of but had to go in with kind of either low or no expectations and just put the work in,” Fowler said at a drizzly Austin Country Club on Tuesday. “And it was definitely nice to see some immediate progress or steps in the right direction.”
Rickie Fowler on his key to success at WGC-Dell Match Play
Once as high as fourth in the world, Fowler struggled to make swing changes under John Tillery, missing the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time in 2021. He earned the final spot in the 2022 Playoffs but, plagued by inconsistency, returned to his previous coach, Butch Harmon, and amicably split from his caddie Joe Skovron, with whom he remains close.
The changes, and the work, yielded fruit. A T6 at the Fortinet Championship (T6) and T2 at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP last fall began a rise back up the Official World Golf Ranking that continues to this day. Although he began this season at 185th in the world, Fowler’s T13 at THE PLAYERS Championship got him up to 59th and on the cusp of the all-important top 50. (The top 50 after this week get into the Masters; he’s projected to need to make the quarterfinals here to get in.)
Rickie Fowler nearly aces No. 17 at THE PLAYERS
“Once I got some good finishes in the fall,” Fowler said, “that helped kind of put me in a position where I knew what I could do and what was possible. I would say after the season last year, it was just, all right, let's figure out a plan, start with a clean slate.”
Hard to believe, but Fowler is a 34-year-old father these days. His hair is shorter. It seems like a lifetime ago that he was the 2010 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year. He would collect five PGA TOUR wins, most recently at the 2019 WM Phoenix Open, and play in four Ryder Cups and three Presidents Cups. His high-wire act in capturing the 2015 PLAYERS, when he birdied the 17th hole three times on Sunday (twice in the playoff), was an instant classic.
A solid result this week would do a lot for his current resurgence. He said Tuesday he prefers this tournament in its single-elimination format, in which he made the semifinals in 2014, losing to eventual champion Jason Day 3 and 2.
Indeed, three days of group play makes it easy to play well and not advance, and Fowler has only played this format twice. At TPC Harding Park, in 2015, he got out of group play but lost to Louis Oosthuizen in the first round of knockout play. And at Austin Country Club, in 2016, he lost to Jason Dufner, tied Scott Piercy and Ben An, and failed to get out of group play.
He’ll have a tough task to make the knockout rounds this time, as he’ll face second-seeded Jon Rahm, already a three-time winner this season, in what figures to be a tough opening match Wednesday. Billy Horschel, who won the whole thing here two years ago, and Keith Mitchell are the other members of Group 2.
To make matters even more difficult, Fowler said he’s struggled with the driver in his last two starts, at THE PLAYERS (T13) and Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (T31).
“If I go drive it well,” he said, “I know I can contend and play with anyone out here this week.”
Of his clash with Rahm, he added, “We’ve been paired together quite a bit. We both enjoy playing together. He seems to play well when he's paired with me, so I know that's going to be a tough match out of the gate.
“ … I’m going to need to play well all three days,” he added.
No matter what happens, he added, he is committed to play in next week’s Valero Texas Open.
This week, next week, the week after that – Fowler could notch that sixth TOUR win any time. It’s coming.
Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.