• Out of Bounds

Fowler adds substance to his undoubted style

ESPN staff
May 9, 2012
Rickie Fowler entered the winner's circle on Sunday © PA Photos

Considering he is likely to be compared to the Northern Irishman for much of the rest of his career, it was perhaps fitting that Rickie Fowler defeated Rory McIlroy to claim his maiden PGA Tour title.

It was a win that had been a long time coming for the 23-year-old, as he edged out McIlroy and the already-forgotten DA Points to claim the prestigious Wells Fargo Championship in a play-off (where McIlroy, interestingly, also won his first PGA Tour event).

Almost ever since it became obvious Fowler could compete on tour - pretty much when he blew a winning position at Memorial (while wearing his trademark orange) in his first full season on the circuit two years ago - fans and media alike have been waiting for Fowler to win his first title.

He won a professional event in Korea to close out 2011 (in an event that also featured McIlroy), but Quail Hollow was his real coming-of-age party.

"It's a good feeling right now," Fowler said. "Definitely some relief, satisfaction. I'm definitely happy. It's not a bad thing, winning. It's kind of fun.

"It'll take a bit for it to sink in. Obviously there's a lot of people that have helped me out through the years, and going through and thanking them one by one is going to take a bit."

Fowler's win is good for him - but it is also good for the sport. Already a prodigious seller of those distinctive orange Puma flat-brim caps, Fowler will now only attract an even bigger following among younger fans - an attractive demographic for the PGA Tour and the sport as a whole.

The next thing the powers-that-be would ask for, certainly in the post-Tiger Woods era, is a real rivalry between two swashbuckling young stars. With his first win, Fowler confirmed that is very much a possibility.

He has hinted at it all his career - and then underlined the potential by wiping the floor with McIlroy at the Open Championship last summer, supposedly the Ulsterman's home turf.

McIlroy, of course, still has something of an advantage on his American rival - not only does he have a major title to his name, but he is also world No. 1 (a crown he reclaimed even in defeat last weekend). But McIlroy does have a two-year headstart on Fowler in the professional arena, even if he is by a few months the younger man.

Rewind two years, and McIlroy actually had exactly the same number of wins as Fowler does now.

Of course, Fowler will have to move through the gears quickly if he is to keep with the pace McIlroy is now setting. But with a bulletproof swing off the tee and improved touch around the greens, he seems to have the game to challenge at most majors - with next month's US Open an early opportunity to follow up on his Quail momentum.

Most importantly, however, he doesn't appear concerned or annoyed by the constant McIlroy comparisons. It's a challenge he embraces; or at least one that leaves him unperturbed.

"Well, Rory is top ranked young player right now, I'm probably the one that sticks out most with colour," he said, when asked of their rivalry. "Now I'm a PGA Tour winner. So I've got some credibility.

"You still throw… you've got guys like Keegan Bradley, who's a major champion, so I feel like there's plenty of guys [also in the mix].

"It's obviously an honour to be talked about as Rory and I back and forth, but I do feel like there's a lot of guys that deserve some credit that would be part of a rivalry."

That may be the case. But, for the reasons of quality and 'colour', they are always going to stand out most until someone else does something remarkable to shift the paradigm. The good thing for Fowler, is he now has a win to validate his status as much as any item of clothing he wears.

Rickie Fowler always had the style. Now we know he has the substance too.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.