Rickie Fowler is looking for his first major -- and PGA Tour win -- this week at Augusta National.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. — If Rickie Fowler felt a little overwhelmed about playing in his first Masters, it would be easy to understand why.

\nBig crowds were out during Monday's practice round. The sun was hot and bright, and the cascading light created those cool, Augusta-esque effects through the pines, which rattled from a few low roars as pros dazzled the fans during their warm-ups.

\nIntimidated? Awed? Fowler looked as cool as ever after his round, which he played alongside Nathan Smith, and close friend and fellow Oklahoma State Cowboy Peter Uihlein. But Fowler admitted there were a few things about Augusta National he wasn't expecting.

\n"You can see a lot of the course when you walk out of the clubhouse. I really didn't know how the course laid," he said. "To see how close some of the holes get together, obviously 11 and 12, and then I didn't know that 6 and 16 were basically right there next to each other. So to see how the course kind of rolled through, it's almost a mountainside here.

\n"I thought it was pretty cool coming out of the back of the clubhouse and looking down over the whole course," Fowler said. "It's something I thought was special."

\nFowler is still just 22 years old and in his second full season on Tour. He may be known mostly for his flashy wardrobe, but he is coming off a stellar debut season that included seven top 10s, a Ryder Cup appearance and the PGA Tour rookie of the year award.

\nThe only thing missing was a victory. He came in second twice — first at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, then later at the Memorial. Despite his pedigree, the odds are stacked against a breakthrough this week at Augusta National. Only three players have won a green jacket in their first Masters, and the last was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

\nStill, Fowler, one of 20 first-timers playing this week, is hoping for big things.

\n"I feel like if I go into the week with high expectations, I feel like there's a chance that we could be walking up 18 in contention and that's something I've dreamed about," Fowler said. "Just to be a part of this week is pretty cool."

\nMonday may have been perfect conditions — clear skies, low winds — for a Masters rookie to play his inaugural round at Augusta National, but Fowler actually flew in last week for his first look at the course. He played one of his two practice rounds with Phil Mickelson and said that the defending champion shared a few secrets about managing the course.

\n"There are a few breaks and a few leaves around greens that he thinks are key," Fowler said. "Obviously you don't want to get above the hole here, and you can't stress that enough."

\nAnd who won that practice round?

\n"He birdied 18 to beat me by one," Fowler said. "So it wasn't too bad."

\nFor Fowler to break through this week, he'll need to be at least one shot better.

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