Early win shows Fowler knows how to close deal

Rickie Fowler enters his seventh Masters Tournament with the knowledge that if he’s leading after three rounds, he now has some history of bringing it home for a victory.

Though Fowler had won three times before this year, they were all come-from-behind affairs. He was zero for four while holding a 54-hole lead.

He changed that in late February at the Honda Classic. He ended up winning by the same margin he started the final round with – four shots.

“It feels great to finally get the goose egg out of that stat,” he said. “It wasn’t easy.”

The timing was good, too. The past three Masters champions – Danny Willett, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson – all won in the calendar year leading into the first major of the season.

“Augusta is just around the corner,” Fowler said at the time of his Honda Classic victory. “Things are heading the right direction, trending the right way.”

The 2016 Masters was shaping up to be one that would favor Fowler. The weather forecast was calling for windy conditions, which suits Fowler, who grew up playing in the wind in California and now lives in Jupiter, Fla., where the wind can also howl.

The wind arrived at Augusta National, but Fowler’s game didn’t. He shot 80-73 and missed the cut by three shots. It was his first missed cut at the Masters.

“I love playing in the wind,” he said at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in mid-March when asked about the first two rounds of the 2016 Masters. “A lot of times I hope it gets windy because I feel like it separates the field a little bit and ball striking becomes a premium. I just had some bad swings and shots that happen. But if I’m not swinging well, it doesn’t matter.”

After missing the cut last year, he noted that Augusta National is “mentally tough without the conditions. And then you add the wind and some unfortunate breaks that you may get, it’s tough, because it can wear on you.”

That is especially true on the greens, he said.

“You’ve seen some stuff on TV with the coverage where guys have been affected a bit, but it’s even magnified even more in person,” he said. “It’s crazy when the ball’s just shaking and you got to wait to hit it.”

In his first-round 80 last year, Fowler started off with a double bogey on the par-4 first hole.

“If there’s any place where any hole can jump up and get you, that’s the place,” he said.

After the opening double bogey, he rebounded with birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 5 to get his round to 1-under. The birdie on No. 5 would be his last of the day. He made bogeys on Nos. 7 and 10, tripled No. 13, bogeyed No. 14, doubled No. 16 and bogeyed No. 18. In his second-round 73, he had four more bogeys but he did have three birdies, finishing his round with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18.

“I felt great there last year and didn’t swing great and that’s what happens,” he said. “It will pick you apart if you’re not on your game.”

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