Rickie Fowler will be leaving Vegas slightly disappointed he squandered a two-stroke lead, but with renewed optimism and confidence for the coming season.
“It felt good to finally hit the golf ball properly, at least most of the time, for 72 holes,” Fowler said. “A lot of quality shots, a lot of good swings this week.”
Fowler finished in a tie for third with Keith Mitchell, three strokes behind the winner, and Fowler’s close friend, Rory McIlroy, and two strokes behind Collin Morikawa, who shot an incredible 62 on Sunday.
This was massive progress for Fowler, a giant leap forward in so many ways. Fowler hasn’t won a tournament since February 2019, The Waste Management Phoenix Open. On a sponsor’s invite, he came into the CJ Cup this week, No. 128 in the world rankings. Fowler needed this good result to kickstart a push to qualify for The World Golf Championships, The Players Championship and the Masters, all of which are in the first three months of 2022.
One week after missing the cut at The Shriners Open, also in Las Vegas, Fowler looked like a different golfer altogether At The Summit Club. He hit all eighteen greens in regulation on Saturday, only the third time in his career he has achieved this, en route to shooting a 63.
In driving accuracy, Fowler tied second on the week and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and SG: Tee to Green. Not for the first time in the last few years, it was Fowler’s putter that let him down, ranking 51st for the week in SG: putting. Fowler’s two three-putts on Sunday cost him. That and the three-stroke swing on the par-5 sixth hole. Fowler tugged his second shot into a penalty area leading to a double-bogey while McIlroy birdied. Fowler lost his two-stroke lead, and he never regained it.
“I struggled a bit on the greens just with feel and speed,” Fowler said.
This was the eighth time in Fowler’s career he has held a 54-hole lead, and the sixth time he hasn’t held on to it. This Tie for third, though, marks his first top-ten finish since the PGA Championship in May and his best result since the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship, where he tied for fourth.
“It’s been a long journey,” Fowler said. “This is a big step in the right direction with where we’ve been in the last two years.”
Fowler’s World Ranking took a massive leap following his excellent performance, jumping to 82nd from 128th. He also passed a big financial benchmark. By picking up a cheque for $565,500 in Las Vegas, Fowler becomes the 24th player in the history of the PGA Tour to collect over $40,000,000 in career earnings.
The last question Fowler’s friend and tournament victor Rory McIlroy was asked in his press conference was about Rickie Fowler, and you could hear the joy in McIlroy’s voice that his friend had once again found some form.
“He’s close,” McIlroy said. “He’s not that far away. I think everyone’s seen how he played this week. Obviously, things didn’t quite go his way today, but he didn’t hit it bad.”
Rory went on to say, “I was keeping an eye on him, Rickie’s a close friend of mine, and I want to see him do well, so I was keeping a close eye on his game today as well, just to see how he played. There were maybe a couple of loose shots in there. But the 5-iron he hit into 11 was all I needed to see. He hit an awesome 5-iron into 11, and to play a shot like that in the final round with pressure and still having a chance to win, I think that means his game’s coming around. All I needed to see was that one shot on 11. It was a pure golf shot. If he can keep repeating that swing, he’ll be back to where he wants to be.”
Rickie and his wife Allison are expecting their first child at the end of November. They celebrated their first wedding anniversary just two days before the CJ Cup teed off last week, so all things considered, it was a good week for Fowler.
Fowler is now heading to Japan for the Zozo Championship next week, hoping to build on his momentum.