Fearless Fowler tops Mickelson in record fashion

Rickie Fowler reacts to the crowd as he approaches the 12th green while playing Phil Mickelson during the second round of the WGC Match Play Championship.

MARANA, Ariz. – Rickie Fowler hasn’t won a professional tournament yet, but he has made several statements. With his colorful attire. With his aggressive style.With his four-birdie rally at the Ryder Cup. 

And now this one, perhaps his most bold pronouncement yet: A 6-and-5 victory over Phil Mickelson in the second round of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.

“It’s definitely some of the best golf I’ve ever played,” Fowler said after making two eagles and five birdies over 13 holes at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain. “To step up against Mickelson, a guy I’ve looked up to, it’s huge. It definitely helps my confidence, with my game and knowing I could go out and get the job done.”

All while wearing hot pink – cap, shirt, shoes. The color hasn’t gotten this kind of marketing in golf since Paula Creamer won a U.S. Women’s Open.

You could spot Fowler from 400 yards away. Or from a few feet away. Phil Mickelson couldn’t resist when he saw Pinkie before the round. According to one version, Mickelson told him, “My daughter Sophia has a pair that color. She wears them to her dance class.”

Fowler said he couldn’t remember what Mickelson had said, or maybe he didn’t hear him, but he has felt the needle before.

“He likes to stick it in,” Fowler said. “Between him and Tiger, they like to make a comment or two, especially if I’m in pink.”

A male golfer who wears pink had better have a lot of game to back it up. Choppers are better suited wearing white and khaki to blend in. That’s one of many unwritten rules in golf – like you had better be at least ascratch player if you have your name on your bag, or a single-digit handicap if you have your name on your towel.

The woods are full of guys who talk 70, dress 80 and shoot 90. Fowler is none of that. He dresses like a teen idol, even though he’s 22, and can shoot in the low 60s as one of the best players in the world.

Fowler hasn’t won yet, but the technical term for his status is just a matter of time.

“He’s really a complete player,” Mickelson said after his worst loss by far in 11 WGC Match Play starts. “He put it all together and I didn’t quite have my ‘A’ game and couldn’t keep pace. I think he’ll do a lot for American golf.”

Mickelson was cleaning out his locker with his 7-year-old son Evan sitting next to him when he heaped further praise on Fowler.

“He’s going to get better and better and he’s already so talented,” the lefthander said. “He doesn’t have any weaknesses. He hits a lot of great shots and a variety of them.”

On Thursday, Fowler did so in just the span of 13 holes. 

Birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 elevated him from behind to ahead for good. Fowler laid up out of a fairway bunker at the par-5 eighth but went 2 up when he hit a wedge to 2 feet and Mickelson lipped out from 10 feet.

That opened the floodgates. Mickelson went from fairway bunker to desert left to over the green right to over the green left in going 3 down at the ninth. Fowler went 5 up after making a 30-foot birdie chip at 10 and a 20-foot putt for eagle at 11. Two holes later, Fowler laced another 4-iron approach, this one stiff, for another eagle and closed out the match.

“I played great,” Fowler said.

And unafraid, not that anyone has ever accused him of being intimidated on a golf course.

“I wouldn’t say there’s anyone that scares me in a way or I’m sitting there staring at them,” he said.

Now that Tiger Woods has slowed down, talented young kids are more and more like that these days. 

For years Woods was always the youngest player on his Ryder or Presidents Cup teams. For years we wondered, Where are the kids?

No more.

Fowler was but one of eight players under 30 to advance to the Sweet 16 here. Fowler is practically an old man next to baby-faced Matteo Manassero, the 17-year-old Italian who took down Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel in the first round.

They were joined by Jason Day, 23; PGA champion Martin Kaymer, 26; Ryan Moore, J.B. Holmes and Hunter Mahan, each 28, and Nick Watney, 29.

“I think most of the young guys are pretty fearless,” Fowler said. “We’re ready to play. And I’m looking forward to seeing some of my friends and some more young guys making a splash out here soon.”

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