AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rickie Fowler could’ve tried to be a hero early on the back nine Saturday.
Amongst the trees to the right of the fairway at Augusta National’s par-4 11th, he had a daring shot in the back of his mind.
Fowler was already 5 under for his round and feeling good. So why not try a “flop-slice” 4- or 5-iron into that wind and maybe pick up another birdie? But the 29-year-old is smarter than that. Even as birdies and eagles arrived in droves around the course on a soggy day, Fowler stayed calm.
Rather than risk a big number, he quickly honed in on pitching out with a 7-iron. From there, Fowler wedged to 14 feet and drained a crucial par putt. It was the turning point in keeping a strong round churning.
“To just kind of stay disciplined and make a good par save there and move on,” Fowler said, “I think that was kind of the big hole for the round today.”
That round ended with two more birdies, leaving Fowler with a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Saturday. It’s his first round at the Masters without a bogey or worse on the card.
“Definitely a special round of golf,” Fowler said.
Fowler opened Saturday on fire, posting an early eagle at the par-5 second and pouring in three birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 8 to go out in 5-under 31. His day stalled from there but didn’t go backwards thanks to that key par save at 11, and another at 13 after he found water on his second shot at the par 5.
Birdies at 16 and 18 put the needed flourish on his day.
Fowler enters the final round of the Masters five shots behind leader Patrick Reed but sits there dangerously in solo third.
Last year, the story was eerily similar. Fowler was solo third through 54 holes in 2017 and actually just one off the lead on a bunched leaderboard.
Chasing his first major title, Fowler plummeted that Sunday. A final-round 76 sunk him to a tie for 11th. That breakthrough in a major – Fowler has seven tops fives but no wins – still awaits. But he has used 2017’s failure as a key piece of experience.
“Big thing (is) sticking to what we’ve been doing well all week and not necessarily getting any more defensive or aggressive,” Fowler said. “Last year, like I said, at times I may have gotten maybe too defensive or too aggressive, and, you know, you learn from that and move on.”
Is there a reason to think this time will be any different than Fowler’s other close calls in majors?
He’s made just four bogeys all week and posted none of the high numbers that have at times derailed the four-time PGA Tour winner from earning more victories. Fowler is known as a man who can go low and make a charge from behind.
It was just four months ago that Fowler fired a closing 11-under 61 at the Hero World Challenge to rocket from seven shots back for a win. In fact, three of Fowler’s four PGA Tour victories are of the come-from-behind variety.
That being said, Fowler wouldn’t mind the pressure of entering Sunday in front.
“I’d rather have like a nine-shot lead and go tee off tomorrow,” Fowler joked.
Whether Fowler can charge Sunday and put up a fight to win his first major may come down to his flatstick. He expressed that his confidence in his putting has been high the last few weeks. Even as he failed to make many putts of substance over the first 36 holes, Fowler never grew weary.
Fowler said on Friday he hit a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in, and that changed in his favor Saturday.
As for what his approach is to Sunday, it’s pretty simple.
“I think we took care of what we needed to take care of, and tomorrow’s a chance for us go do something pretty cool,” Fowler said.