Ever since he laid up from 230 yards on the par-5 15th in the final round of the 2010 Phoenix Open, the “When Will Rickie Fowler Win?” watch has been on. With an opening-round 6-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Championship, could this finally be the week the popular, neon-clad youngster with flowing tresses notches his first “W” on the PGA Tour?
The confident 23-year-old, who finished second in Phoenix two years ago after playing it safe and taking heat from some observers for not going for it, believes it could be.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if a win is right around the corner,” Fowler told reporters following a flawless round that included an eagle on the par-5 seventh. “Once it does, hopefully the doors open and we’ll go from there.”
In fact, while Fowler, who enjoyed a stellar amateur career and was a standout in a brief tenure at Oklahoma State, has yet to post an official PGA victory, he was quick to point out that he took personal satisfaction in defeating the reigning U.S. Open champ at last year’s Kolon Korea Open on the OneAsia Tour.
“I won in Korea,” he said. “I beat Rory [McIlroy].”
Fowler considered his six-shot edge over McIlroy in Korea to be “a good stepping stone” toward a win stateside -- a goal he believes to be close at hand, despite a slow start to his 2012 season that includes two missed cuts in 11 starts and two top-10 finishes.
“I've been close a few times out here,” said the third-year PGA Tour pro. “That's definitely one of my main goals is getting my first win out here and kind of solidifying my position as a player on the PGA Tour.”
As for the many fans and pundits wondering when Fowler will live up to his billing as one of the young guns set to displace oldsters like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, the golfer takes that as a positive.
“I feel that I'm good enough to win,” Fowler said. “I definitely feel like with the amount of people expecting or thinking that I can win is a compliment....I'm not too worried about the talk that goes on about when my first win is coming, but...it's my main goal, and that's what I'm focused on.”
As for those old fellas, Mickelson closed his first round at 1-under, which wasn’t too bad considering he posted another triple-bogey on the par-4 fourth hole. Lefty, you may recall, bagged two triples at The Masters last month.
With an afternoon tee time, Woods began his day at Quail Hollow with a bogey on No. 1 and a birdie on the second and was even-par through three holes.