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What's Keeping Rickie Fowler from His Breakthrough?

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What's Keeping Rickie Fowler from His Breakthrough?
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Rickie Fowler has become more well-known for his outrageously unappealing orange Sunday ensembles and his equally poor attempt at a mustache than for his ability to conquer his competition.

Fowler, who shot into the golf world’s consciousness in 2009 with a prognosis of greatness, has yet to meet those vaunted expectations.

After Fowler's stellar run of success at the end of last year, his father told Iain Carter of BBC, “Ever since he was a 15-year-old, everyone said he acted more like a 25-year-old."

Carter’s article spotlighted Tom Watson’s prediction that Fowler would be the next great American golfer.

“He has confirmed he can win and that is very important," Watson told Carter. "Once you have that first win it shows you that you can win again.

"They were starting to ask questions about him, but I saw at Royal St George’s at the Open last year that Rickie is a real talent. He showed it there and he can win more tournaments."

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler were predicted to have a big rivalry.

It is not just Fowler’s panache and naturally aggressive approach on the course that made people predict greatness.  He began his pro career with a rush of four top-10 finishes in his first year, including two second-place finishes.

Then he seemed to come of age at Royal St. George at the British Open, finishing in a tie for fifth.  That was in 2011, and it seemed like a harbinger of positive things to come for the 22-year-old.

In one year, from 2010 to 2011, Fowler shot up the world golf rankings to 28 from 249, and it appeared as if the sky was the limit for the likeable Californian with a quick smile and go-for-it game.

Was Fowler America’s answer to Rory McIlroy?  Their age and attitude surely matched, but what about their game and fortitude under pressure?

Fowler stimulated the conversation when he beat Rory at the 2011 Korean Open.  It was Fowler’s first professional win.  We all know about Rory, who now has multiple wins, including two majors, under his belt.

But Fowler has since floundered. His game is woefully inconsistent, with amazing flashes of brilliance and unwatchable mediocrity in the same season, match, round and even hole.

Remember how Rickie electrified the crowd and his team at the 2010 Ryder Cup by posting four birdies in the last four holes to come from four down and halve his match with Edoardo Molinari?  

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That was followed by an up-and-down year in which he went from a tie for second at the World Golf Championship to four finishes in the late 40s and 50s and a missed cut. He then went unselected to the 2012 Ryder Cup.

In 2012, Fowler finally scored his first PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship, followed by a tie for second at The Players and a tie for fifth at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.  He only missed three cuts out of 23 events, and his performance led to the captain’s pick on the Ryder Cup Team.

Today, a normal tournament for Rickie will include early rounds in the 60s and final rounds in the 70s. Just think about this year’s U.S. Open when he rose to within striking distance of the leaders with a stellar 67 on Day 3 only to fall back by carding a brutal 74 on Sunday.

A look at his current statistics tells the story: He is ranked 43rd in before-the-cut scoring, 31st in round-three scoring and then a dreadful 94th in final-round scoring.

He is not a Sunday player.  In 2011, Rickie was tied for the lead with Nick Watney at the AT&T at nine under, but struggled in closing and finished with a four-over 74 and a tie for 13th.

You gotta score on the last day, and that is not Rickie’s forte.

There is little doubt about Rickie’s golfing prowess.  He is known as an excellent ball-striker who hits a lot of greens, but he is also a streaky putter and is pretty much run-of-the-mill off the tee.

The final product is a player who has potential and, in four years on tour, continues to learn and grow but not at a rate that accumulates wins.   

Fowler is currently ranked 32nd in the world rankings alongside Bill Haas.  Haas, who has four wins in the last four years, proved what winning is all about when he emerged from the pack on the final day at last week’s AT&T for the win.

That is the type of play Fowler is missing.

Just a few places behind Fowler in the rankings lies Billy Horschel, who wowed the crowd at the U.S. Open and is having a fantastic year on tour, including seven top 10s and a win.

Of these three players, who would be your pick to win his next tournament?

Maybe Fowler just has to let loose a little.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

As member of the Golf Boys, the hysterical boy band that includes PGA’s Ben Crane, Bubba Watson, and Hunter Mahan, Rickie showed a rambunctious boyishness that actually could benefit his game.

Despite the loud, vibrant colors he dons on the course, which might make you think he's an animated character, he's surprisingly dull. Whether he sinks a birdie or hits it in the water, he's oddly stoic, despite being decked out in coral blue and neon green from head to toe.

There may not necessarily be a correlation between fashion style and playing style, but perhaps a little more on-course animation, a little more emotion and expression beyond what he's doing with his clothes, might make him a more complete player—the kind who can finish on Sunday.

Looking forward to the British Open, Fowler is actually ranked among the 20 favorites, according to sports-odds.com.  

Apparently the optimism that has followed the likeable young Californian has not waned despite his roller coaster career to date.

What is seen in Rickie is a brilliant raw talent capable of so much more than what has occurred.

If he can conquer his final day jitters, Rickie may just be able to beat the odds and break through to the next level.

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