Rickie Fowler showed he still knows how to win with his first victory in more than a year over the weekend, although the perception lingers that he hasn’t lived up to his potential in his career. Is it fair to say he’s underachieved?
If there were doubts, Fowler’s win solidified his position as a legitimate contender to claim his first major at the Masters in April. Who else out there can most use a victory in the next month to boost his status for Augusta?
Our expert panelists ponder these questions and more in this week’s edition of Monday Four-Ball.
1. Rickie Fowler has seven worldwide victories, including four on the PGA Tour, after his victory at the Honda Classic. At age 28, how do you rate his career to this point?
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Matt Barrie: Fowler’s career to this point has combined great achievements, expectations and letdowns. He’s constantly a player that we believe can win a major and then disappoints. He’s someone who can be motivated by the critics and then win the Players. Much like the good players before him who had wins without a major, when he gets one he’ll be taken seriously as a legitimate world-class player.
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jonathan Coachman: I rate it slightly above average, and I am taking into account his talent. He’s actually had a really good career. It’s hard to win, but his natural ability should have made for more big victories. He needs to break through at a major. Until then, his rating for me can’t get above a 6 out of 10.
ESPN.com senior golf analyst Michael Collins: Fowler gets a B-plus so far. While he has no major on his résumé, his Players Championship trophy is a testament to just how solid every point of his game can be. What also is a badge of honor is how he performed in majors the season of 2014 (top five in each).
ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig: He’s been a pro since 2009, so four PGA Tour titles seems a bit light. It is a testament to his skills and stature that he is regarded as someone who should have won more. That said, few would be surprised to see Fowler get on a roll and win multiple times.
ESPN.com senior golf writer Jason Sobel: I feel like Fowler has become a victim of his environment. First off, he was hyped so much at such a young age that simply being a top-10 player wasn’t enough to live up to it. Secondly, he’s watched younger players win majors before him, which has somehow led to criticism of his shortcomings. What gets lost in this message is that Fowler has carved out a highly successful career in which he’s one of the world’s best players. A major is coming — and when it does, maybe the haters will finally stand down.
2. Which player most “needs” a win prior to the Masters?
Coachman: For me this is easy: Day. I watched him in person in San Diego, and he seemed lost with his long game. His game right now is playing for pars. The top-ranked player we knew would shoot a 65 in his sleep and made Whistling Straits look like a pitch-and-putt. Day needs to remember how good he can be. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this week, as he pulled out of Mexico with an illness.
Collins: Day it seems now is struggling with staying healthy. A win before the Masters for Day would do wonders for the former world No. 1. Losing the title he so desperately wanted to hold on to has to shake the confidence a bit. Winning flips that switch back to 100 percent positivity.
Harig: Danny Willett. The reigning Masters champion has had major bouts of inconsistency since his victory at Augusta National, at times putting pressure on himself to live up to a major title. A win would alleviate some pressure.
Sobel: I don’t know if Phil Mickelson “needs” a win, but he’s gone oh-fer since mid-2013 despite playing terrific golf at times, which has to be weighing on him. Prior to two of his three Masters wins, Lefty won previously that year; in the other one, he was still fresh off a victory at the season finale the year before. If he can taste success in one of his starts before getting to Augusta, he’ll once again vault himself into the upper category of favorites in April.
3. What do you make of Pat Perez‘s comments about Tiger Woods?
Barrie: Perez has been known his entire career for being outspoken. Those who have followed him understand that he speaks what’s on his mind. My guess is that he said some things that a lot of other players feel but don’t necessarily have the guts to say.
Coachman: If you read and listen to the whole thing, Perez was being very fair. We are not talking about a regular touring pro. We are talking about Tiger Woods. The scale on which he’s measured has to be different. Tiger would never come back just to shoot a 77 and shake hands. I have a radio show. Your job is to give opinions but also be fair. All in all, I think Pat was. The media just chooses to pull certain quotes to make the story seem better.
Collins: Since I’m Perez’s co-host on the show, I’d say I’m probably the most qualified to give an assessment. For the two years we’ve done the show, he’s always said the same thing about Tiger. It’s never changed or wavered — the highest of all praise for the guy and what he’s done for the game; brutal honesty for his golf game right now. He made one comment that was wrong, and he clarified it on why Tiger pulled out of Dubai.
Harig: Honest, but harsh. Perez didn’t say anything that others weren’t thinking, but it came off as disrespectful, and he even insinuated that Woods claimed back issues after shooting bad scores. For a guy who missed most of last year after surgery himself, Perez should know better. For his part, Perez made a point to say that he wishes nothing but the best for Woods.
Sobel: Other players are thinking the exact same thing; Perez is just the only one who voiced it publicly. He’s never been the kind of guy to bite his lip when it comes to caustic comments. Agree or disagree in this case, that honesty is always refreshing.
4. Yes or no on the PGA Tour’s decision to move the WGC event from Doral to Mexico, where it will be played for the first time this week?
Barrie: Yes. I’m all for trying new places, courses and ideas until there is a reason that it doesn’t work.
Coachman: I know that in this climate it’s a tough call for players. I don’t know that I like it, and we have many great courses in the United States that I am sure would have loved to have hosted this. But we have to remember we are trying to grow the game. And players from all over the world make up this field. For that reason, I hope it is a great move and the event presents itself well.
Collins: Both. Yes for moving from Doral. No for going to Mexico. Since when is the Caribbean not part of the world? And it’s an easy commute to and from the Florida swing events. Instead, the tour goes somewhere with bad air quality that’s a 1,200-mile flight from Miami.
Harig: No, this was not the event to move. It seems that the PGA Tour bailed on a longtime market in Miami somewhat hastily. It’s tough turning your back on a place that has been a home to the tour for more than 50 years.
Sobel: What’s that W stand for in WGC again? Oh, right — World. So yes, the WGCs should be more international than just Miami, Austin and Akron every year. I like the fact that the tourney is breaking new ground in Mexico this year, but I’d also like to see some sort of rotation — not just for this event, but for all WGCs.