AUGUSTA, Ga. — Oh, how familiar this must feel for Rickie Fowler. Playing Augusta National for the ninth time, he’s again a mid-level favorite to win the Masters and can’t get through a press conference without being asked, “When are you actually going to get it done?”
Then on Thursday he fired an opening-round 70, good for fifth place when he signed his card. It’s the same score he shot last year in the first round. He went on to finish second.
Fowler is following a familiar script: arrive at a major as a top 10 player, answer the same questions about his empty trophy case, feign that knocking on the door pays off and then just try to win the damn thing. The only thing different now might be his DiCaprio haircut.
Fowler is rocking a new ‘do that’s best described as a crossover between his recent high-and-tight look and the long-and-flowy look of his past. It’s a strange thing to acknowledge, but the number of ‘dos Rickie has rocked says something: he’s been around.
Fowler has played every Masters since his debut in 2011, finishing in the top five twice. He’s cracked the top five at six other majors. He’s held 18-hole and 36-hole leads. No, he’s never finished a winner; just constantly there, constantly good enough to beg those questions. He must be getting sick of it, but his patience is impressive.
Patience was key at the Masters on Thursday, as it is every year at Augusta National. Months of anticipation finally cede to a reality that’s either brutal or beautiful. “This golf course, you’ve got to respect it,” Fowler said Thursday. “It can tear you apart really quickly if you’re not careful.” That was the case for him in 2016. A couple of unlucky bank shots off the tall pines led to a first-round 80.
Today, he plodded along with nine pars and a bogey to start, finishing with three birdies on his final eight holes for 70. He’s been around Augusta National enough — 31 competitive rounds — to know that 70 is just fine on Day 1. Tiger Woods, playing in the group ahead of him, made it pretty clear, too, noting a first-round 70 led to multiple green jackets.
“The discipline part of it is sticking to not trying to get too aggressive,” Fowler said, “or try to do too much and kind of accept what the course gives you.”
It was that kind of day at Augusta National. Accept what the course gives you. Accept what the field gives you, too. Though he admitted there were likely 5- and 6-under rounds to be had out there Thursday, he was happy with 70. Corey Conners was the morning-wave pace-setter with a 70 of his own. Then Justin Harding, Adam Scott and Jon Rahm added 69s. A couple others would do slightly better, but no one was sprinting away, at least not yet. After 18 holes, it’s no one’s Masters to lose. And so, it’s everyone’s Masters to win. Perhaps this time it will be Fowler’s.