Since his last win at the 2019 WM Phoenix Open, Rickie Fowler has been searching.
Missed weekends became a norm for the 34-year-old. During the 2020-2021 season, Fowler tallied a single top-10 finish. He missed nine cuts.
The trend continued throughout his 2021-22 campaign, finishing inside the top 10 once, the top 25 a mere three times and missing the weekend nine times once again.
But so far in 2023, Fowler has found his game.
Thanks to a few swing changes, a reunion with long-time coach Butch Harmon — who earlier this year claimed Fowler would win this season — and a switch to a mallet-style putter, the five-time PGA Tour winner has six top 25s in 10 starts, three of which are top 10s. Fowler was the runner-up to Keegan Bradley at the Zozo Championship during the wrap-around season, and collected three top-20 finishes at designed events: T-10 at the WM Phoenix Open, T-20 at the Genesis Invitational and T-13 at the Players Championship.
Rickie Fowler tees off on hole 3 during final round action of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, Sunday, March 12, 2023. (Bob Self/Florida Times-Union)
At this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Fowler can most likely earn a spot in the 2023 Masters with a berth in the quarterfinals, according to Official World Golf Ranking guru Nosferatu (@VC606).
He took care of world No. 2 Jon Rahm on Wednesday, winning 2 and 1, but fell to Billy Horschel 3 and 2 on Day 2. Fowler needs a win against Keith Mitchell on Friday to have any hope of moving on.
If he’s welcome through the gates of Magnolia Lane, Fowler should be considered a threat to wear the green jacket come Sunday afternoon.
His last appearance at the year’s first major was at the November edition in 2020, where he tied for 29th. Before that, he finished T-9 in 2019, solo second in 2018 and T-11 in 2017. Fowler also finished inside the top five in 2014.
The course history is there.
As for his current form, Fowler has regained his confidence on the greens. He’s ranked inside the top 55 in almost every putting category, including SG: Putting (53rd). But more importantly, his ball-striking is back.
Entering the week at Austin Country Club, Fowler ranked 11th in SG: Approach, an area required to successfully maneuver your way around Augusta.
Top 50 #OWGR projection for #TheMasters qualification. As you can see, all the hopefuls (in white, not yet qualified for the Masters) who are at the @DellMatchPlay, will need to get out of the group stage and all but one will need to make the QF stage at least! pic.twitter.com/EBTZkv7i72
— Nosferatu (@VC606) March 20, 2023
While the goal is to focus on this week in Texas, Fowler knows what’s on the line.
“I knew I needed to come here and play well,” he said Tuesday. “I wasn’t sure of exactly what I needed to do. The nice thing with the kind of world rankings and what’s coming off, really, anything I do that puts points on the board is only going to move me up from here moving forward.
“So, yeah, I mean, my short-term goal is to obviously get myself back in Augusta. If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to continue to move forward and be in a good position.”
And if he doesn’t make it far enough, his plan is to head down the road for the Valero Texas Open.
“I’m committed and planning on playing there. If I do play well enough, we’ll kind of maybe reconsider and see where we’re at. But, yeah, kind of doing whatever I need to do to give myself the best chance to be in Augusta,” he said.
Not sure how the green jacket would look covering his iconic Sunday orange, but it’s safe to assume he wouldn’t care.