Rickie Fowler had won only two PGA Tour tournaments going into this weekend’s The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. If he wasn’t already self-conscious about not having pulled through for more victories, a poll among his peers that ran in Sports Illustrated ranking Fowler as one of the tour’s most overrated probably didn’t make him feel any better.
But as evidenced by him torching the competition in his final six holes of regulation on Sunday, dropping four birdies and an eagle to earn a spot in a three-way playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner on Mother’s Day, Fowler used that disrespect as motivation.
“I’ve waited a long time for this. It’s great to be back in the winner’s circle … We obviously look at this tournament as one of the biggest that we play up against the majors. This is a special week. Everyone looks forward to it.”
While not considered one of the four official majors, many professionals consider this the unofficial “fifth major.” The victory moved Fowler to No. 9 in the world rankings, his highest position this year and tied for the best in his career.
Fowler chased down Garcia, who led by two at the turn on Sunday. Fowler’s late run propelled him to a final-round 67 to finish the tournament at 12-under overall. Fowler, Garcia, and Kisner played holes 16, 17, and 18 in an aggregate playoff that eliminated Garcia. They went back to the iconic 17th hole, a 137-yard par-3 to an island green, where Fowler birdied yet again — the fifth time he’d birdied 17 in the tournament, and his third birdie on the hole on Sunday.
“I’ve always played 17 well and I played it well this week,” Fowler said.
The world’s No. 1 golfer, Rory McIlroy, finished Sunday with a two-under 70 and tied for eighth place four strokes behind Fowler.
Fowler’s victory set off alarms not just across the golf world, but on the celebrity gossip circuit as well. His passionate and emotional celebration with bikini model girlfriend Alexis Randock had people talking about them being sports’ new power couple.
Fowler was consistent most of the week shooting 69-69-71-67. But it was Fowler’s play on 17, with five birdies including three on the final day, that stole the show.
“Big thanks to 17,” Fowler said.
Fowler’s two previous victories came at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship and the Korea Open in 2011.
[Image via PGA Tour]