CJ Cup: No moral victory for Rickie Fowler but ‘big step in the right direction’

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Kanye West once sang that “moral victories are for minor league coaches.” Well, that may be true, but Rickie Fowler shouldn’t be hanging his head despite squandering a two-stroke 54-hole lead at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.

“It felt good to finally hit the golf ball properly, at least most of the time, for 72 holes,” he said. “A lot of quality shots, a lot of good swings this week.”

Fowler came home in 1-under 71 on Sunday at the Summit Club to finished tied for third with Keith Mitchell, three strokes behind Rory McIlroy, who notched his 20th PGA Tour title, and two behind Collin Morikawa, who shot a scorching 62.

For Fowler, who hasn’t won since the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February 2019, it was a big step in the right direction. Fowler turns 33 on December 13 and has been open about his struggles, which have seen him fall from No. 8 in the world to No. 128 entering this week. He needed a sponsor invite to play in the CJ Cup and has his work cut out to qualify for World Golf Championships, the Players Championship and the Masters in the first quarter of the new year.

The good news is that one week after missing the cut in his season debut at the Shriners Children’s Open last week, Fowler was dealing with a full deck in Vegas. He hit all 18 greens in regulation on Saturday, just the third time in his PGA Tour career that he’s done so, en route to shooting 63.

Fowler ranked first for the week in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and SG: Tee to Green and tied for second in driving accuracy. What let him down, especially on Sunday, was his putter. Fowler ranked 51st for the week in SG: putting, and lost 2.675 strokes with his short stick in the final round. That ranked 73rd in the field, which included two three putts at Nos. 6 and 10. The first of them followed tugging his second shot at the par-5 sixth hole into a penalty area and led to a double bogey. It was a three-stroke swing when McIlroy made birdie as Fowler went from leading by two to trailing by one. He never regained the lead.

“Struggled a bit on the greens just with feel and speed,” Fowler said.

While Fowler failed to end his victory drought – he’s converted just two of nine 54-hole leads for his career – the T-3 marked his first top-10 finish since the PGA Championship in May and best result since a T-4 at the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship.

Fowler and his wife, Allison, celebrated their first anniversary last Tuesday and their first child is due Nov. 30. Fowler is off to Japan for the Zozo Championship next week and to try to build on this momentum.

“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “This is a big step in the right direction with where we’ve been in the last two years.”