Blow up hole

09/07/2015

When the sun set on Boston Monday evening, the winner’s trophy was once again in the hands of an uber-talented 20-something. This week, it was 26-year-old Rickie Fowler who reinserted his name into the Annie Oakley season golf has been having– “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Fowler won the Deutsche Bank Championship by two strokes over Henrik Stenson with a final round 68. The victory was the Oklahoma State product’s third of a season in which he was named one of the most overrated players on the PGA Tour. That notion is gone, but Fowler is still fighting for legitimacy in a sport overrun with young talent.

After posting four top-fives in the 2014 majors, many pegged Fowler as the chief rival to then World No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Then Jordan Spieth happened and later Jason Day and Fowler, although he won the Player’s Championship and the Scottish Open, looked to fall behind the game’s elite.

There was fire in eyes this week. Fowler played with equal parts poise and determination in New England. During Sunday’s third round, he missed every fairway on the front nine. That didn’t stop him from rolling in four birdies as part of a four-under, 67.

On Monday, trailing Stenson in the final group by one, Fowler drove his opening tee shot well left into the brush. He casually knocked it back to safety with his second shot, then buried a par putt to escape trouble. Fowler followed up that save with a long eagle on the par-five second.

Another bomb on 14, this one a birdie, put the pressure firmly on Stenson, who cruised with two and three-shot leads all day. On 16, the Big Swede made a crucial error. His tee shot landed in the hazard and eventually became a double bogey. With two holes to play, Fowler led. Ho-hum pars did the trick.

Before we say anything more about Fowler, we should devote some time to the runner-up. Stenson came up a club short in his bid for his first win of 2015. His stinging three-woods that traveled as far as Fowler’s drivers reinforced Stenson’s standing as the best ball-striker in the game. With a victory, he may have claimed another unofficial title: the best male Swede to ever tee off.

Credit Fowler for chasing him down, the former’s second terrific come-from-behind effort of the season. It’s almost unfathomable that in the early spring, the Puma-clad, vibrant Californian was thought of as more flash than substance. That’s certainly no longer the case.

But just winning is no longer enough for Fowler, or anybody. For as good as he played this weekend, he still lacks the major pedigree of contemporaries McIlroy, Day, and Spieth possess, golf’s so-called “Big Three.”

Fowler, as ESPN’s Jason Sobel wrote in a column following Sunday’s round, would love to make it a big four. He made an important step in getting there Monday.

At this pace, though, it will take leaps.