PGA Tour Confidential: Rickie Fowler wins Wells Fargo Championship in playoff

Monday May 7th, 2012
Rickie Fowler birdied the first playoff hole to earn his first career PGA Tour title.
Carlos M. Saavedra / SI

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR FOWLER?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Rickie Fowler made a clutch birdie on the first hole of sudden death to brush off Rory McIlroy, five months Fowler's junior, and Grandpa D.A. Points, 35. Now that Fowler has his first Tour win, and he's enjoying success after returning to a cross-handed putting stroke, will he be on your short list of favorites at the Players this week and the U.S. Open next month?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The kid drove it on a string all week. That's crucial at Olympic. So, yes.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Never mind the favorites. Rickie is now on the short list of players the public cares about. Tiger. Phil. Rory. Rickie. Fred (still).

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail editor@golf.com or ask it on Facebook.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The short list of favorites is so long that I'll say yes. There are a dozen or 15 on my short list of truly top players right now.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: There are two lists. One with Tiger, and another with everybody else. Our live blog reader comments prove that beyond a doubt.

Shipnuck: I can vouch for Rickie's crossover appeal. My daughters -- all under age 9 -- were cheering like crazy for him today.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Funny, my boys (5 and 3) were rooting for Bubba Watson during the Masters because they knew he'd bought the General Lee.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I can vouch for Rory's crossover appeal, too. His caddie handed a little girl Rory's ball in the walkway between 15 and 16, and the little girl went nuts! She was jumping around, screaming, "I got Rory's ball!" A few girls in their teens were screaming his name on 16, and they were pretty pumped when Rory looked over and gave them a nod.

Van Sickle: That happens every round he plays. He's a Pied Piper.

Morfit: I thought "crossover appeal" was a reference to his new/old putting grip. Whatever inconsistency he had seems to have been cured when he went back to his old left-hand-low grip with the flatstick.

Lipsey: He's always on the radar, but not at the very top. Seems a bit inconsistent, like Mickelson.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Not yet. He's a one-time winner on Tour. But I did love the confidence he showed down the stretch and in the playoff.

Wei: Yeah, that approach shot into 18 in the playoff was the kind of shot you hit to win. Loved how aggressive he was.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: When you hit laser-guided irons and believe in your putter you can win anywhere, so why can't Rickie win at Olympic? I'll be fascinated to see how he plays at Sawgrass this week.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Not on my short list for the Players because it's hard to win coming off the high of a win, but Olympic sets up pretty well for him. You don't have to be crazy long there.

Morfit: I loved Faldo's comment that Fowler's Sunday outfits aren't unwrapped, they're fresh-squeezed.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I've always liked Fowler's swagger, and he proved at the '10 Ryder Cup that his game is ready for the big stage. I wouldn't be surprised to see him win again this year. U.S. Open feels more likely than the Players, especially since he'll be playing Sawgrass right after his first win -- could be an emotional letdown.

Wei: I'm thrilled for Rickie. He's a genuinely good kid and has handled the "why haven't you won" questions well. Instead of getting defensive about it, he kind of embraced the 1,000-pound elephant in the room. His ballstriking was incredible. As for his cross-handed grip, this game is mental, and maybe that was the little change he needed.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: If Rickie can keep things as straight as he did this week, I like his odds. He knows what it takes to win and took some risks under pressure, and it paid off for him. That can only help him at Olympic.

Morfit: I actually think Fowler could go on a run. I'll say he contends at the Players.

Godich: Let's be careful here. The guy has won once. Now we're going to pencil him in for the next major? He'll probably win again this year, but I don't think it will be one of the big three.

Hanger: I don't know about this year, but the long-term upside for Fowler seems tremendous. He's only 23 and has 16 career top-10 finishes and now a win on the PGA Tour. You have to think major victories are in his future.

Bamberger: There is a Lanny Wadkins, Nick Price, Pat Perez quality to his whipfast swing. That doesn't suggest consistency. But it does suggest brilliance when the stars are aligned.

Wei: Robert Garrigus made a good point earlier this week when I asked him about all the chatter about Rickie's not winning: "Rickie's got more pressure on him than anybody out here to win a golf tournament," Garrigus said. "Every single kid you see here has a Puma hat on, every single kid on Sunday is wearing an orange shirt. It's unbelievable. That's a lot of pressure to put on a kid." But he's embraced it all very well. I just found out this week that Rickie will only sign Puma hats. Brilliant marketing.

Dusek: I don't know who is happier that Rickie won, Rickie or Tim Finchem.

Godich: Bingo! And it didn't hurt that he took down Rory.

Ritter: I think Cobra Golf is probably the happiest of all.

Dusek: Cobra will be more than happy to send the incentive check to Mr. Fowler. Money well spent.

Wei: It sounds cheesy, but golf wins.

Rouse: Exactly. Points said the same thing in his post-round presser.

Van Sickle: I don't recall a year in golf that had so many memorable finishes in the first four months. This has been a very good year for the PGA Tour.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you think Rickie has a better shot at winning the Players or the U.S. Open?

MCILROY CLOSE AGAIN
Morfit: Once again, Rory McIlroy came close but didn't get it done, yet he'll go back to No. 1. What does Rory need to do to convert more of these top-three finishes into Ws? It looks like he's got to get better with his wedges -- he airmailed 11 from 97 yards and made bogey Sunday, a mistake Faldo called "dreadful." Thoughts?

Van Sickle: The fact is, the guy is in contention almost every time he plays. You can always find one more shot when you come up just short. But yes, that shot at 11 was poor. His approach into 18 in the playoff wasn't exactly tight, either. I don't see it as a big problem. It's just that hard to separate yourself from the field these days.

Bamberger: Exactly. It's Tiger's career that's making Rory's top-3s look unsuccessful to us.

Godich: He won at the Honda and lost in a playoff in Charlotte -- two tough tracks. I'm not worried about Rory. He came up with a plan that seems to be working. You can have Rickie at the Open. I'll take Rory.

Wei: I was there with Rory's group on No. 11, and that shot was surprising. He basically put himself in the worst spot possible and couldn't save par. But he hasn't finished outside the top 3 -- besides the Masters -- in how long? If I can pick a guy to win every week, I'll take Rory every time.

Hanger: I'm not worried about McIlroy either, but Cameron makes a good point on the wedges -- pgatour.com tells me that his average approach from 75-100 yards ends up 22 feet 2 inches from the hole, 169th on Tour this season.

Shipnuck: Yes, as long and straight as he drives it, his wedge game is crucial. I'd like to see him make more 10-footers, too.

Godich: Rory turned 23 last Friday. What do you say we give him a little time to show what he can do?

Dusek: I totally agree, Mark. We're lauding Rickie for getting his first win, and then in the next breath wondering why Rory, who is five months younger, doesn't seal the deal more often. Does anyone really think that in 20 years Rory isn't going to have a million wins and a bucketful of majors?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: We've seen this before from Rory. He is not a finished product, but he's so talented that he can contend almost every time out and sometimes go TW late-90s and blow away the field.

Gorant: Seems like Rory just has to play and he'll get the wins.

Rouse: Rory is incredibly talented, and it's almost become a given that he contends if he's in the field. Parts of his short game let him down here, but he was great off the tee. Hard to fault a T2 finish in a playoff. He didn't give it away. Rickie won because of his great play and the clutch approach shot in the playoff.

Lipsey: McIlroy is 60 or 70 percent of what Tiger Woods was in his prime. By the way, I loved that video of him swinging as a 3-year-old.

Wei: I'll admit I've probably watched that video 30 times. His follow-through looks practically the same! It's incredible. Tiger could learn a thing or two about social media from Rory.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Any concern about McIlroy coming close to winning without closing it out?

MOST MAJORS: RORY OR RICKIE?
Morfit: Who ends up with more majors, Fowler or McIlroy? I'm going to take Fowler, only because of Rory's back problems a few years ago. I hope he's cured; as we've seen with Woods, it's hard to be great with injuries.

Godich: Rory. He's got the lead. Don't see him giving it back.

Bamberger: McIroy. What part of Rickie's game is better than Rory's?

Van Sickle: Agree with Bamberger. On 18, Rory hit his 3-wood past Rickie's driver. That's beyond amazing. That's scary. Rory's 3-wood is the club of the week. Wow.

Lipsey: McIlroy.

Herre: McIlroy, no contest. I like his game and love his temperament. Fowler's a nice player, but he seems to have only one speed, and it's very fast.

Dusek: Rory. He'll win at Augusta and could be a force at the Open Championship.

Shipnuck: Rory's gonna win the major count about 10 to 1.

Wei: Hands down, Rory.

Morfit: I don't know if it's as one-sided as you guys all think. What if Fowler is freed up to play even better now that he's gotten his first win? What if he turns into the guy we saw salvage half a point in his Ryder Cup singles match in 2010?

Bamberger: Rickie plays super-free golf. That's not been his issue. I don't see anything tight at all.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who finishes his career with more majors, Rory or Rickie?

STATE OF TIGER'S GAME
Morfit: Tiger Woods missed the cut for just the eighth time as a professional. Given his victory at Bay Hill, and his T40 and worst-ever finish as a pro at the Masters, this was being billed as the rubber match for Tiger. What conclusions can we draw from his MC?

Bamberger: A life at the crossroads. His golf talent is still there. I'm wondering if golf means much to him right now. I wonder, too, if the Haney book stole a piece of his soul, just as the scandal did. And I would say all this even if he wins the Players.

Van Sickle: I'd say Tiger is stuck in the intersection between mechanics and muscle memory. Seems like he's got too many swing thoughts going to play his best golf.

Godich: He's lost. And now he heads to a course that isn't exactly suited for him. Things could get worse before they get better.

Morfit: Tiger's last two starts suggest he's like a lot of Tour pros now. He'll win every once in a while, but he won't necessarily understand why, and he won't necessarily be able to carry any of that momentum into the next week.

Bamberger: I don't agree. He's nothing like other Tour pros. He won Bay Hill by five. It's not the kind of place you can run from the field. He's Tiger Woods. He has a reservoir of memories of shots played liked nobody playing today. But that doesn't mean anything if your head's not into it. Maybe it is, or maybe it will come and go.

Morfit: Tiger isn't the only Tour pro who can distance himself from the field. David Toms, whose game is nothing like Tiger's, was absolutely unbeatable at the WGC-Match Play one year. Woods is unlike other golfers in that he'll always be able to generate more excitement, but I don't put much into that five-shot win at Bay Hill, especially not now.

Van Sickle: Tiger's consistency was beyond belief once upon a time. Now his inconsistency is beyond belief.

Godich: He won at Bay Hill after playing in the Tavistock Cup on Monday and Tuesday of that week. I'll say it again: He needs to play more and practice less. He has lost his feel for the game. Forget the mechanics. Get back to playing golf.

Lipsey: So he's like the rest of us.

Hanger: The only thing I can draw from Tiger's performance is that I have no idea what to expect from him every time out. At Bay Hill, he looked like he had it figured out, but now he's back to looking like he has no idea where the ball is going, and no confidence in his swing.

Ritter: At this point in his career, he's playing like many other better-than-average pros -- some weeks he's got it, some weeks he doesn't. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins another event this year. But I'd be stunned if it clicks for him this week at the Players.

Gorant: He says he's fighting the old swing while trying to ingrain the new one, and that's holding him back. After that it's all guesswork.

Shipnuck: The uncertainties in his long game have affected his short game. That's as bad as I've ever seen him chip it, and on Friday a series of must-make putts never had a chance.

Van Sickle: I'd also suggest he's back to spending so much time working on his swing, searching for it, that it's cut into his short game time. But you've got to put out the biggest fire first.

Bamberger: The biggest fire to put out is putting. He used to win by huge margins by making way more putts than anybody else, even when he was way wild off the tee.

Dusek: All we really know is that Tiger's game is clearly fragile, that the work he and Sean Foley have been doing for almost two years is far from over, and that he's still fighting swing thoughts. Saying that he hits the ball best when he's NOT comfortable at address is a pretty stunning admission.

Morfit: That was weird. If he hits it best when he's not comfortable at address, shouldn't he rehire Steve Williams?

Rouse: I can't help but think that all this swing tinkering is putting Tiger's head in a tizzy. He was never able to get any momentum going at Quail Hollow, and the only club he hit consistently well over the two rounds was 3-wood. The driver was erratic on Thursday, irons on Friday, and his putting was all over the place, especially in the 10-20 feet range.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What do you take away from Tiger's missed cut at Quail Hollow?

WHAT WENT WRONG?
Morfit: Let's assume Tiger doesn't suddenly revert back to Tiger circa 2000. What was his downfall? I'll say it wasn't his body falling apart, but instead it was the dissonance between his yearning for privacy and his extreme fame. I think that was at the root of all the other stuff. Thoughts?

Van Sickle: I'm going with getting away from the swing where he played his most impressive golf and parting from Butch Harmon.

Godich: Remember when Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson parted ways? How's that been working out for the Cowboys?

Bamberger: Having his inner life exposed, first by the tabloids, later by Haney.

Hanger: His downfall was that he's human. He was able to play like he wasn't for a long, long time, but then his secret life was exposed, and his body started breaking down, and his head got in the way, and the fame got so big that he didn't have anywhere to hide. Nothing lasts forever, even for Tiger Woods.

Gorant: Who knows. Learning "the ropes" from Jordan and Barkley et al? Having his childhood stolen? Marrying when he really didn't want to?

Shipnuck: Putting so much stain on his delicate body is certainly a big piece. The commando workouts are symbolic, but pumping so much iron and running as many miles as he did have led to the physical breakdowns, which necessitated the swing changes, which now have him wandering in the wilderness.

Dusek: Obviously we're guessing here, but the wear on Tiger's body from playing so much, training so hard. His knee has got to be held together with duct tape and c-clamps at this point. His Achilles tendon is bad, and that's just some of the stuff we know about. Had Tiger not had so many injuries, I think he'd have more Ws and possibly more majors today.

Rouse: I don't think it's any one thing. It's a combination of the scandal, the injuries, and the fact that there has been a surge of really great young players.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: If Tiger never regains his top form, what will go down in history as his ultimate downfall.

FUNK VS. WOODS
Morfit: Gritty little Fred Funk birdied the 18th hole to edge Mr. Champions Tour, Tom Lehman, by one at the Insperity Championship. Let's throw an unusual one out there: Who finishes higher at the Players, Funk or Woods?

Lipsey: Nice! Love to see Funk outdo Woods.

Shipnuck: It's a precision course, so I'll take Funk. Bizarro world we now live in.

Godich: They'll both miss the cut, but Tiger will be closer to the number.

Van Sickle: Who has a better knee? Fred's got a replacement. That might be better.

Bamberger: Creative, Cameron! Funk.

Herre: Tiger's not a big fan of the Stadium course, even though he's won there. But c'mon, let's not go crazy here. He'll dust Funk.

Wei: I'm just hoping Tiger makes it past the first nine holes.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who finishes higher at the Players, Woods or Funk?

BUBBA STAYS HOME
Morfit: McIlroy and Westwood skipped the Players last year. This year Bubba Watson will skip it. What can this tournament do to become must-play, like the majors? Should it move back to March?

Bamberger: March was a way cooler date in every way.

Herre: Move back to March? You must be joking. The only downside to what's happening with the Players and Hall of Fame inductions is that they conflict with Mother's Day.

Dusek: I think May is the perfect time for Sawgrass. Bubba is skipping the event for very unique reasons, and Rory and Lee should have played. The Players is not an event that needs many improvements.

Lipsey: Nothing but the majors will ever be must-play.

Shipnuck: They need to build a bigger clubhouse.

Wei: Having it in May makes this three-tourney stretch (Zurich, Wells Fargo, Players) more exciting.

Herre: Good point. This three-tournament run is on the rise. Cool to see, especially for New Orleans.

Godich: And yet some of the big names passed on Charlotte because they thought New Orleans was a better prep for the Players.

Wei: Quail Hollow was on the no-miss list, but TPC Louisiana is good prep for TPC Sawgrass -- same grass, conditions, greens, course designer, etc.

Godich: Bubba's reason for skipping was a family one. And I couldn't applaud him more. The Players is just fine where it is.

Wei: I don't want to sound like a jerk, and obviously family comes first, but the Players is in Jacksonville, only two and a half hours from Orlando. Why not bring Angie and Caleb? Win-win!

Van Sickle: Bubba gets a pass from me for "maternity leave."

Hanger: I agree with Steph. Now is the time for him to max out his earning potential for the family's future, and the Tour needs him out there. It's not like the whole family can't come along for the ride, and it's not like he can't take weeks after the Players off.

Godich: I couldn't disagree with you and Stephanie more.

Van Sickle: I guess his tour earnings potential is way more important than his new son.

Rouse: Bubba could finish in the 30's and 40's for every tournament he plays for the rest of his life, and I'm pretty sure he'd be able to cover his family's future.

Hanger: Of course his son is more important than golf, and that's not at all what I'm saying. His wife and son can come and stay in the luxury hotel for a few days while dad "works." If you're a pro athlete, you need to earn when you're hot, and that's building for the future of your son and your son's son. Especially if you plan to keep buying up General Lees, every million and a half counts.

Rouse: If he keeps buying General Lees at the price he ended up paying for it, it won't be too much of a concern.

Dusek: The Players won't lose ticket sales because Bubba Watson isn't playing, and staying at home with his family is going to endear him to a lot of fans even more. In a month, no one will remember that he skipped the Players. And he's earned $15.5 million in career prize money alone. Corporate sponsorships and incentives to endorsement contracts add millions more. He could put the clubs in his garage and never work another day in his life, and the bills would be more than paid for.

Godich: Sounds like he didn't even want to play in New Orleans, but he felt obligated because he was the defending champ. In his prime, Tiger played less than anyone. How did that work out? Going through the motions at Sawgrass wouldn't do anything for Bubba, even with the family in tow. He wanted a break. He wanted to bond with his son. Good for him.

Van Sickle: You've got a new baby, and a whole army of new products and foods and baby items you need. They're all at your home. It's just a golf tournament. Do you really need to haul that whole show on the road? Let them get used to being parents. Bubba's already won enough money for three lifetimes.

Hanger: Excellent points. All I'm saying is it wouldn't have been too big a deal to play the Players. Many new parents have to do many more unpleasant things.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Are you okay with Bubba's decision to skip the Players? And should it stay in May or move back to March?

SIR TRUMP-A-LOT
Morfit: Trump National Bedminster was awarded the 2017 U.S. Women's Open, and Trump said he's aiming for a men's U.S. Open next. Anybody played this track? And will the Donald get his wish?

Lipsey: Maybe, but too bad that would knock Bethpage out of the rotation for a very long time.

Gorant: I don't think it touches Bethpage, because of the public angle, but it's over for Baltusrol.

Dusek: Winged Foot too? Last rumor I heard was that the members were still not thrilled with the USGA.

Bamberger; I just can't see a men's U.S. Open going to a golf course where there's an owner with a profit incentive. Yes, the resort courses that the U.S. Open goes to -- Torrey and Pinehurst and Pebble -- have that, but it's not like one person has so much to gain. I just can't see it.

Herre: What about Herb Kohler? Is Trump really that much different?

Bamberger: True, but I'm distinguishing between the PGA and the USGA.

Gorant: Great course. Wouldn't bet against him. He and Mike Davis were having a "who can say more nice things about the other guy" contest on Thursday.

Herre: I've played both 18s and can attest that Bedminster is legit. Plus, lots of room and easy access to both NYC and the USGA headquarters and museum. Trump will get his men's Open. Get used to it.

Bamberger: Both courses are good. The new one is more interesting, less U.S. Open-y.

Godich: I don't think you give Trump the Women's Open without knowing you've opened the door for the biggest prize. He'll get it, and sooner rather than later.

Van Sickle: I've played it. It's huge, sprawling; the greens and bunkers are ridiculously large. One green was so big, I wish I'd had a rangefinder to get a yardage for my putt. It's modern Fazio architecture at its ... well, fill in your own word. But I don't see a men's Open there unless it's all about the money. Oh, yeah. I see a men's Open there.

Dusek: It's tough and hilly, and I think it will give the best women in the world a serious test. It's about as much fun as a root canal, and might be a little out-of-the-way for the New York crowd. As for a men's Open, on which course? Bedminster was built for tournament golf.

Herre: Bedminster is basically on the corner of I-78 and I-287. That's hardly out of the way.

Lipsey: It's certainly more accessible than Shinnecock, which requires a two-hour train ride from NYC, or a helicopter.

Dusek: Fans flock to Shinnecock because it's aspirational and historic, and the Hamptons are full of rich golf nuts in June. Bedminster is 45 miles outside NYC and, no disrespect, but not many people dream of playing there the way they do Shinnecock.

Bamberger: Trump's best chance for a major men's event is the Ryder Cup in Scotland at Trump's linksland.

Shipnuck: It's so easy to root against Trump, but the guy loves golf, which is a redeeming quality for me.

Wei: When does the Donald not get what he wants?

Bamberger: Trump wants the respect of the golf establishment. I'm not sure why. He's more interesting than the golf establishment.

Morfit: That's a good point. It's funny how there's a different white whale for everyone.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Trump's course eventually land a men's U.S. Open?

AK STILL STRUGGLING
Morfit: Maybe we should be dissecting the downfall of Anthony Kim, whose game is a shadow of what it was when he won at Quail Hollow in 2008. What happened to this guy? Injuries? Righteous parties? A little of both?

Herre: Too much too soon.

Bamberger: Everything's fast now, in golf and in life. You slip, and 150 guys blow right by you. And then you question everything. Your swing, your confidence, your habits. The mountain you have to climb to get back looks like Everest.

Godich: Both. I think Rickie could learn a little from what happened to Kim. You can lose it in no time.

Morfit: I get the feeling Fowler's lifestyle is not too similar to A.K.'s. Just guessing.

Herre: Couldn't be more different.

Wei: Not even close.

Godich: Not saying it is. But the minute you get comfortable, the world will pass you by.

Van Sickle: I think he's all about injuries. You ever try to play with a bad thumb or a bad wrist? You can't do it. And if you do play, you ruin your swing by favoring it.

Lipsey: Sad, because he had monster talent. Shows how fickle golf can be.

Shipnuck: Injuries begat swing problems, which have led to a crisis of confidence. Then more injuries. The guy was a top player when he was partying like a rock star, so that's not the problem.

Rouse: Yes, who's to say the fun on the side wasn't what kept A.K. loose out there? Maybe he and Tiger should start hitting up the hot spots together. I think injuries have been his downfall.

Wei: His people insist that AK's not even partying like a rock star anymore. I think it's the injuries. He was having a great season in 2010 before he had to take a few months off to have surgery. Major buzzkill.

Ritter: I drafted him on my fantasy golf team. The kiss of death.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What happened to AK? Will he get it back?

 

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