AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rickie Fowler has never won a major championship despite playing in 34 of them since earning his PGA Tour card. “Despite” is doing a lot of work there, but that’s how it goes for the Best Player to Never Win A Major. Fowler is that guy at this year’s Masters.
It’s weird to say because Fowler is only 30 years old, but this is the phenom era of professional golf. Fowler lags contemporaries Rory McIlroy (four) and Jason Day (one) in majors won. Even Patrick Reed beat Fowler to it when he bested him by a stroke at last year’s Masters.
“Just have to do one better,” Fowler said Monday, smiling.
That’s really all there is to it. Fowler can be a little bit better here and finally win a major after eight top-five finishes, including three times as runner-up. Then Fowler can give the BPTNWAM burden to some other golfer who is very good, but not good enough — or at least not good enough during the weeks when golf holds its major championships.
The lack of a major on his resume isn’t yet an albatross for Fowler. He’s not like Phil Mickelson trying to do it in his mid-30s. Fowler should have plenty more chances to win majors before anyone considers the possibility that he never will.
Fowler has five PGA Tour victories, $36.6 million in career earnings and a Ryder Cup title with the U.S team. He can rightly be considered among the best golfers of his generation. He cannot be called a major winner, and that is the thing puts very good golfers on another level.
It could be the 2018 Masters was a prelude to a breakthrough for Fowler in the majors. No surprise that Fowler sees it not as a missed chance to win, but evidence that he can.
Fowler shot 65 in the third round of the 2018 Masters. His 67 on Sunday included four birdies among the final seven holes, which forced Reed to make par at No. 18 to win. Fowler had come close to winning majors before, but he said the 2018 Masters experience showed him that he’s “more ready than I’ve ever been” to do it.
“Not saying that I can sit up here and tell you I’m definitely going to go win, but I like my chances.,” he said. “I love this place. I know I can play well around here.”
Fowler has a good chance to win. The betting markets have Fowler at 16-to-1 odds to win. Only McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods are getting shorter odds. One guess as to what separates those four from Fowler.
A confluence of circumstances has made Fowler BPTNWAW. Most obvious among them is that he’s a very good player. It’s also that he was good at a young age, has played well since then and is doing it during an era when even guys who haven’t won majors are famous.
Fowler’s career earnings rank 21st-most all time. Only two younger players are ahead of him on the list, McIlroy (11th) and Spieth (18th). Johnson and Jason Day, two other higher-earning contemporaries, joined the Tour two years before Fowler. You already know what those guys have that Fowler doesn’t.
McIlroy, whom Folwer beat out for Tour rookie of the year in 2010, won his first major in his 10th try as a pro, Day did it on his 21st attempt and Reed needed 17. Among the next wave of young stars Jordan Spieth stands alone with three major titles before he turned 24, but they can’t all be Spieth.
In many ways, majors won is an absurd standard for judging golfers. They already are among the very best in the world at a game that is difficult to master. There are other big tournaments. Fowler won one of them, the 2015 Players Championship.
In that tournament, Fowler caught Sergio Garcia by playing the final six holes in six-under, including an eagle on No. 16, then won a playoff against Garcia and Kevin Kinser. Later that year, Fowler won the FedEx Cup playoff event in Boston by makings puts and putting pressure on Henrik Stenson, who lost the lead when his hit his tee shot into a water hazard at No. 16.
Those were not off-brand events against thin fields. Fowler has had remarkable performances to beat fields with the best players for big money. He just hasn’t done it in the majors.
There was a time when it seemed inevitable that he would. Fowler finished top five in all four majors in 2014. He struggled in majors over the next two years before tying for fifth in both the U.S. Open and PGA in 2017. Fowler’s second-place finish in the 2018 Masters was followed by ties for 20th, 28th and 12th in the year’s other three majors.
It was a good year otherwise for Fowler, who finished 11th in the world rankings. Then he won at Phoenix in February, rekindling the notion that this could be his year at Augusta.
“I don’t think you could ever say ... ‘This is my time, I’m going to go win,’ “ Fowler said. “You have to go win it and then say it afterwards.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise if, come Sunday evening, Fowler is sitting in the same place saying that, no longer the BPTNWAM.