BRYAN, Texas – Rickie Fowler was struggling. His ballstriking wasn’t quite as crisp or as accurate as the previous day when he shot 65, and the putts just wouldn’t fall when the few birdie opportunities arose.
That’s why the Oklahoma State sophomore was 4 over par through the first 12 holes Sunday during the final round of the Aggie Invitational at Traditions Golf Club. And, at 3 under for the tournament, he found himself one shot out of the lead.
At the 13th tee, Cowboy assistant coach Donnie Darr informed Fowler where he, and his team, which had also fallen behind, stood.
“When Donnie told me how things were, I just knew I had to get it going and make something happen,” Fowler said.
After pars at Nos. 13 and 14, Fowler did just that – big time.
Fowler, last season’s player of the year, freshman of the year and Ben Hogan Award winner, birdied three of the final four holes, considered among the toughest on the course.
The fantastic finish not only gave him a one-shot victory over freshman teammate Morgan Hoffmann, it vaulted Oklahoma State to a three-stroke triumph over host Texas A&M and gave the Cowboys their third win of the season.
The Cowboys closed with a 13-over-par 373 to finish at 6-under 714 in the six-count-five format. The Aggies, with a final-round-best 371 were at 3-under 717. Finishing a distant third in the 12-team field was Ohio State at 21-over 741.
The tournament was reduced from 54 to 36 holes after severe thunderstorms washed out one of the two scheduled rounds the previous day.
With a closing 1-over 73, Fowler finished at 6-under 138 for his first victory this season.
Hoffmann, who has two wins already this season, shot final-round-best 70 to finish at 139, two strokes better than Wichita State’s Dustin Garza, who closed with a 72.
Texas A&M’s Bronson Burgoon, who shared the first round lead with Fowler, struggled to an 81 and tied for 16th at 2-over 146.
“It was a bit of a struggle early on,” Fowler said. “I just wasn’t hitting it solid. It really wasn’t a lot of fun. But it was sure a lot of fun the way I finished.”
At the par-5 15th hole, Fowler hit his second shot just right of the green, chipped to 10 feet and made the putt. At the par-3 16th, he missed a 12-footer for birdie, but came back at 17 and drained a 10-footer which put him into a tie with Hoffmann.
He pushed his tee shot right on 18, the ball hitting a tree and coming right down into the rough. From 193 yards, with a downhill lie and downwind conditions, Fowler nailed a 7-iron shot to 8 feet and his putt was dead center.
“It’s awesome to get a win,” Fowler said. “It shows all the work I’ve put in the last few months is paying off. It’s definitely a big confidence boost, especially with (Big 12) conference coming up next week and then regionals.”
You can extend that confidence throughout the entire Oklahoma State team after the way it captured the title, and especially since it was coming off their worst showing of the season, a 10th-place showing the week before at the U.S. Collegiate.
“This is what you need this late in the season and heading into the postseason,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw. “J.T. (Higgins, Texas A&M coach) has an outstanding team, so to beat them here on their home course and on a difficult course like this is really big for us.”
The Cowboys entered the final round with a five-shot lead over Texas A&M. But the Aggies made a charge and took advantage of Oklahoma State’s early struggles. The Cowboys’ five counting players played the first 12 holes in 19 over.
The host Aggies were 14 under and led by eight shots after nine holes. They clung to a four-stroke edge when the final pairing had reached the 15th hole.
Then, with Fowler and Hoffmann, who birdied 14, 15 and 17, leading the way, the Cowboys surged to the victory.
“The bad news is we played poorly early on and forced ourselves to have to play well coming in,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw. “The good news is we were able to do that and make some key birdies coming in.
“We’ve had a few other tournaments this season where we led going into the final round and weren’t able to pull it off. Hopefully what we did here today gives them the confidence to know when it gets down to crunch time they can get the job done.”