COMMENTARY | And now, we turn to the rest of the golf universe being drowned out by the floodlights following Tiger Woods and his reclaimed No. 1 ranking to Augusta National … and his latest date with Lindsey Vonn.
Rickie Fowler did his best to take down Tiger in Monday's finish to the Arnold Palmer Invitational but a bogey-triple bogey stumble down the stretch once again doomed his chances. It's becoming an all too common trend for the talented 24-year-old but one that needs to be corrected if he hopes to become a regular winner on the PGA Tour.
Maybe too much was expected of Fowler when he blazed onto the scene with a clinic on clutch putting at the 2010 Ryder Cup. That display backed up Corey Pavin's gutsy pick of Fowler as a captain's choice and the young gun out of Oklahoma State seemed destined to become a perennial Ryder Cup presence.
Fowler took a big step last May in capturing his first tour victory against a deep field on a stellar track at the Wells Fargo Championship. Fowler followed up his maiden win with a runner-up showing the next week at the Players Championship and added a T5 at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial for good measure.
Then the roof fell in. Fowler played his way off the 2012 Ryder Cup team by failing to post a top 20 finish the rest of the season. Davis Love III made the wrong call picking a flawed Jim Furyk for the team over Fowler as the darling of Puma-wearing young golfers everywhere would have added some needed pizzazz to the U.S. lineup.
I thought Fowler would enter this year with a chip on his shoulder, kind of like getting back on his dirtbike after a bad fall and charging the motocross course even harder. His 2013 campaign has shown flashes - he's got three top six finishes - but it's been done in by final-round blowups. Fowler ranks 126th in final round scoring average and you're not going to win too many times with those numbers.
Loose iron shots have been the main culprit. The 7-iron second shot he rinsed into the water fronting Bay Hill's par 5 16th hole is the latest and most memorable example. That errant swing led to a triple bogey, extending a streak that PGATour.com's Fred Albers notes has seen him make a double bogey or worse in 15 straight tournaments. Fowler has been hitting such shots all year as he ranks 133rd in greens in regulation.
Despite the poor finish, Bay Hill marked Fowler's best showing since his run of good play nearly a year ago. And he was encouraged about standing toe-to-toe with Woods, the best closer ever, for most of the final round.
"That's the best I've felt in the final group," Fowler said in his post-round press conference. "It was fun to go after him a little bit, I just wish it could have been a little bit more coming down the last couple holes."
Add to that growing confidence a dose of maturity. Since coming on tour, Fowler has putted aggressively, almost fearlessly. Such boldness creates more opportunities to convert long birdie putts like he did at Bay Hill but also introduces more three putts. Now he sounds ready to ease off the throttle.
"It's not fun having three or four footers coming back all the time," Fowler said. "I'm working on dropping the speed back a little bit."
Fowler is also trying to learn as much as he can from his late mistakes.
"Putting myself in position to win a golf tournament and kind of taking myself out of it…it was kind of kick in the butt to go out there and finish off tournaments."
Sounds like that chip is back on Fowler's shoulder. Only another win can knock it off.
Much Ado About Anchoring Putters
For all the fuss about the belly putter this season, the long stick has yet to be wielded by a tournament winner. Maybe the threat of having to switch back to a normal length putter is playing with their heads but whatever the reason, the PGA Tour's most well known long putters have been mostly missing in action on 2013 leaderboards.
Webb Simpson: The first U.S. Open winner to anchor his putter, Simpson has sandwiched six top 25 finishes around two missed cuts but has yet to be in contention down the stretch on Sunday.
Adam Scott: A sample size of four tournaments is not much to judge but Scott sits in the middle of the pack in strokes gained putting and has made a single cameo appearance in prime time thanks to a final-round 64 to finish third at Doral.
Ernie Els: The long putter worked wonders for Els at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's but hasn't helped much since. He has just one top 25 finish in five U.S. starts and has been seen on practice greens stroking a standard length putter.
The lone exception to the long-putter-as-an-anchor theme is Keegan Bradley, who is trending in the right direction with the Masters on the horizon.
After a lackluster West Coast Swing, Bradley has heated up in his adopted home state of Florida. The Jupiter resident has finished T4, seventh and T3 in his three starts on the Bermuda greens of the Sunshine state. And those performances could have been better as each was capped by a final-round 71.
Bradley would seem to lack the seasoning to win at Augusta - he'll be making just his second Masters start - but he's been doing course recon with none other than Phil Mickelson, a mentor who's not afraid to pass on his vast knowledge to his Ryder Cup and weekly money match buddy.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for FoxSports.com, the Greensboro News & Record, Burlington (N.C.) Times-News and New York Post. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
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