Rickie Fowler experiencing career resurgence in 2023 leads to renewed hope for first victory in four years

Here is a non-exhaustive list of players who have been statistically worse than Rickie Fowler since the start of 2023: Rory McIlroy, Cameron Young, Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Tom Kim.

Again, that's non-exhaustive.

Fowler hasn't received the praise I certainly expected because, after three years of wandering, he still hasn't won since the 2019 Phoenix Open. Make no mistake about it, however, he's playing at an incredible clip worthy of inclusion in discussion among the best players in the world.

On Monday, Fowler was invited to next week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill based on the number of PGA points (separate from FedEx Cup points) he's earned so far this season. He also rose to No. 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, his highest placement on the list since November 2020. As Brentley Romine of Golf Channel pointed out, if he can maintain that level in the OWGR, he will also qualify into the U.S. Open in June and Open Championship in July.

Fowler has only played three majors since the November 2020 Masters. He got an exemption into the 2021 PGA Championship, where he finished in the top 10, earning a spot in the following year's PGA. He also got into the 2021 Open Championship, which Collin Morikawa won. He missed six other majors because he fell to nearly No. 200 in the OWGR. 

He's been a menace on the course so far this year. Top 20s at Torrey Pines, Phoenix and Riviera were followed by a T13 at the Players Championship, a T10 at the Texas Open and two top 15s in a row at the RBC Heritage and Wells Fargo Championship, both of which carry the new designated event status on the PGA Tour schedule.

"It's definitely been a bit more consistent," Fowler said of his play so far this year before a T14 at the Wells Fargo. 

"Feel like it's been weeks where I've been able to rely on maybe one or two parts of the game. Really haven't had everything yet, but I'd say the state that I feel like I'm at in the last few years, that would be a missed cut or finishing in the back of the pack and now being able to manage and keep things moving forward, build momentum, that's turning those weeks into top 20s and top 10s."

Fowler's iron play -- always a signature of his game -- had dropped way off the last several years. He went from consistently being a top 25 approach play golfer in the world to hitting approach shots at a worse-than-Tour-average clip. 

Much of this happened as Fowler transitioned away from swing coach Butch Harmon to John Tillery. Fowler recently reunited with Harmon, and the results have been evident. (Fowler credits Tillery for setting him up to take off again with Harmon.)

Fowler is having the single best season he's ever had when it comes to approach play. And while his driving has been average to above average, he's thriving because of his iron play. Among players with at least 25 measured rounds since January 1, only Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm have been better on approach shots. Combined wins: seven. It's pretty great company to keep.

Now Fowler sets his sights on something bigger than just getting into the field at majors. Harmon predicted a win at some point this year, and what may have sounded crazy four months ago no longer sounds crazy. Fowler is a legitimate threat to win every time he tees it up, even if nobody has realized it yet.

That's a good thing, too. Because no matter how you feel about the former Oklahoma State superstar, it's almost impossible to deny this fact which will play out in obvious ways at the PGA Championship and beyond: Rickie Fowler is great for golf, and professional golf is better off when he's playing at the highest level.

Source: CBS Sports

 
 
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