Fowler played in the final group with Martin Kaymer at last month’s U.S. Open but was five shots behind at the start of the round. Kaymer stretched it out to an eight-shot victory, not challenged at all by Fowler — or anyone else, for that matter.
This time, Fowler was even further behind — six shots down when he teed off with McIlroy -but put up more of a fight, especially after the turn. Fowler birdied all three of the par-5s on the back side, as well as the par-3 15th, to at least make the leader sweat a bit.
In fact, Fowler went to the 18th green with an eagle putt, while McIlroy put his second shot into a pot bunker. If McIlroy had messed up things in the sand and Fowler had rolled his ball in, it might have gotten really interesting.
As it turned out, McIlroy blasted out with ease, setting up a two-putt par, while Fowler missed his putt and settled for birdie.
”I’m definitely pleased with the way I hung in there, the way I fought it out,” Fowler said. ”I tried to give Rory a little run at the end but just got on the gas a little too late.”
Fowler became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2005 to finish in the top five of the first three majors. Fowler also contended at the Masters, winding up in a tie for fifth, six shots behind winner Bubba Watson.
This was all part of the plan when he hooked up late last year with famed swing coach Butch Harmon.
While Fowler had earned more than $10 million in his young career, he had never done all that well in the biggest events. He had more cuts than top-10 finishes, so he decided to change things up. Going forward, all his preparations and practice routines would center on being at his best for the majors.
Fowler has already missed the cut as many times this season (seven) as the last two seasons combined, but none of those early exits have been in one of the signature events.
”It definitely hasn’t been my most consistent year,” he said. ”But as far as where my focus has been to play well in majors and really focus on the prep and the lead-up in the weeks prior, and then playing well in the majors, it’s definitely been the most consistent.”
He knew if he played well at Royal Liverpool, it would probably be enough to lock up his spot on the Ryder Cup team.
Captain Tom Watson looks forward to having him as part of the 12-man squad that will try to take back the trophy from Europe in September.
”I like Rickie. I like his attitude. I like what he’s doing,” Watson said. ”He’s playing well. He’s about ready to run the table.”
For now, Fowler is getting real used to that walk out to the 18th green, where the runner-up accepts some small trinket while the winner gets the big prize.
As McIlroy clung to the claret jug, he turned toward Fowler.
”The way you’ve played this year,” the winner said, ”your time will come.”