Rickie Fowler continues run at TPC
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- If he follows form -- and why wouldn't he? -- Rickie Fowler will be decked from head to toe in burnt orange Sunday, an ode to his Oklahoma State college days and often a source of derision.
At 23, Fowler is able to pull it off, and he is certainly one getting the last laugh now.
After winning his first PGA Tour event last week at the Wells Fargo Championship in a playoff, Fowler finds himself in a position to win again at The Players Championship. His 6-under-par 66 was Saturday's best score by two strokes.
That included his only bogey of the day at the par-4 18th. Not that he was complaining.
"I feel like I'm kind of in an underdog position,'' he said. "Maybe overlooked at the start of the week, because [I] won last week, maybe a little tired. But I'm ready to go. It's all about giving yourself chances out here, and I gave myself a chance last week on Sunday and took advantage of it -- and giving myself a chance here going into Sunday.''
Fowler's 66 moved him into the lead for a time before he settled for third place, three strokes behind 54-hole leader Kevin Na and two back of Matt Kuchar. Fowler will play in the second-to-last group with Ben Curtis, who is five back of Na and tied for fourth with Zach Johnson.
No player since David Duval in 1997 has followed up his first PGA Tour victory with a win the following week. And Fowler is attempting to become the first since Tiger Woods won the Buick Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2009 to win in consecutive weeks.
It wasn't long after Fowler left Oklahoma State and got on the PGA Tour that young fans began showing up in galleries wearing bold Puma hats -- flat brims, too -- and shirts with a rainbow full of colors.
Well, and some not-so-young-fans.
"I get a laugh out of it and feel honored when there's 40- or 50-year-old guys that are cruising around in all orange,'' Fowler said. "It's fun and it kind of shows you that they're having fun. They don't care what other people think. They just out supporting and rocking the orange.
"I love seeing it. It's cool from, my perspective, to have somewhat of an impact on that, especially with the young kids. If I can keep having a positive impact and keep guiding them the right way, then that's half my goal as a PGA Tour player.''
All of it goes down much better as a PGA Tour winner. Fowler had strong credentials coming out of college, nearly won in one of his first starts as a pro, then spent a good part of the past three years struggling to break through. Prior to last week at Quail Hollow, he had not been in contention much this year.
"I know the stress of trying to win can be tough when you're expected to," Phil Mickelson said. "I was really happy to see him break through and win, and it's very possible that that will propel him to relax and just take off."
Of course, Mickelson knows better than anybody that Fowler is pretty relaxed. He's confident enough to grow a mustache that doesn't appear if it will fully form. His hair flows from underneath those flat-brimmed hats. He wears it backward for interviews.
Asked who Fowler reminds him of, Mickelson quipped: "Johnny Deep a little bit with the look.''
Fowler, who is from Southern California, has relocated to South Florida and has taken to playing friendly rounds of golf with Woods at The Medalist in Jupiter. Woods referred to the games as fun money matches and understands the hype.
"Obviously, he's got an inordinate amount of talent,'' said Woods, who played with Fowler for the first time in competition during the first two rounds this week. "It's just a matter of time before he broke through. He's the type of guy, once he understands what it takes to win out here, he can win a lot.
"Kind of like DD [David Duval]; he was there, there, there, and once he started learning how to win, he went off and won a bunch of tournaments.''
Fowler said he feels as if he is playing with house money. The pressure to win his first PGA Tour event is gone and the confidence that comes with winning is in full force.
Capturing the prestigious Players, of course, would stamp him even more as one of the top young players in the game.
And good luck with that under-the-radar stuff on Sunday. Fowler might have felt that way heading into this week in a fog-like state after his first win. But now with a chance again, he is sure to be a subject of considerable attention.
"I'll be dressed pretty bright,'' he said, laughing. "So you'll be able to see me.''
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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