Continuing a recent trend, Rickie Fowler found himself deep in contention on Sunday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Needing a birdie on the tough 18th, Fowler stuck an approach shot to three feet, making the putt to join Collin Morikawa and Adam Hadwin in a playoff. Playing the 18th again, Fowler hit a foul ball right off the tee. But a fortuitous TIO drop from the grandstands allowed him to play a spectacular iron approach into the green. From there he made birdie to win for the first time since 2019. It’s Fowler’s sixth career PGA Tour win, breaking him out of the Pancake Club and leaving behind five-win legends like Carl Petterson and Dan Forsman. All jokes aside, Fowler’s resume was always better than five Tour wins would suggest. Considering what he’s endured in recent years, this one might be the sweetest of his career.
Rickie’s road has hardly been smooth in the four years since his last win. His game bottomed out; in the fall of 2022, Fowler ranked 185th in the world. That’s an incredible freefall for a player once considered one of golf’s “Big Four”. Fowler’s journey through the wilderness is a reminder of the fragility of the sport. Within the blink of an eye, it can all disappear. Sometimes it comes back. Sometimes it’s gone forever.
With Justin Thomas’s recent struggles, the 2016 Spring Break crew has now seemingly all gone through stretches like this. Smylie Kaufmann was the first to struggle on the course, a decline in play that ultimately led to his budding broadcast career. Jordan Spieth and Rick were next, each reaching lows nobody in 2016 would have predicted. This week saw Justin Thomas miss his third cut in a row, another disappointing week and the latest low point for the worst season since his rookie year. Time will tell whether JT’s downturn is a blip or here for a more prolonged period, but if it is more serious at least he has friends to turn to for advice.
While JT struggles, Rickie is inching back to elite status. He ranks inside the top 10 of the Data Golf Rankings, and since the Players he has eight top-15 finishes in his last nine starts. At this point, given his form and popularity, he is a lock for a Ryder Cup selection. A remarkable feat considering where he was less than a year ago. With the year’s final major quickly approaching, Rickie has returned to a familiar place among the dozen or so favorites at Hoylake.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.