PINEHURST, N.C. — Rickie Fowler has a great sense of fashion. He knows how to work a crowd.
Now, all he needs is a career-defining win.
Fowler will play in the final group of a major for the first time after being one of just two players to break par on a brutal Saturday at Pinehurst No. 2. He shot a 3-under 67, leaving him five shots behind U.S. Open leader Martin Kaymer.
“The main goal going into the year was … to be ready for the majors and go contend in the majors,” Fowler said. “I really wouldn’t care less what happened in the other tournaments, just because my main goals were to be ready for the majors.”
It’s easy to understand why Fowler is so focused on winning one of golf’s biggest events.
Since breaking onto the PGA Tour in 2009, Fowler has always carried himself like a star. Big endorsement deals. Flamboyant clothing. Long, unruly hair. Outside of Phil Mickelson, he might be the most popular guy on the course.
Only one problem: His lone tour victory came at the Quail Hollow two years ago.
Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of close calls, causing some to question if Fowler is more hype than substance.
But he’s only 25, with most of his career still ahead of him. It’s clear that he’s close to breaking through, based on his performances this year at Augusta and now at Pinehurst.
Fowler was two shots off the lead going to the final round of the Masters, but a 73 on Sunday knocked him out of contention. He has a more daunting deficit to make up at the U.S. Open, but he’s following the plan he had going into the year.
“I would definitely be very happy at the end of the year,” he said, “if I was in contention at all four majors.”
Facing a course with firmer greens and devilish pin placements, Fowler managed to make five birdies and limit the damage to a couple of bogeys. He and Erik Compton, who also shot 67, were the only players in the red on Saturday.
Kaymer shot 72 but was at 8-under 202 after back-to-back 65s to start the tournament. It was still his championship to lose, with only five other players under par going to the final round. Fowler and Compton were at 207, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson were six shots backs, and Brandt Snedeker must overcome a seven-shot deficit.
“I can put myself in contention with the rest of the group, and see what Martin does,” Fowler said. “If he goes out and posts double-digits (under par), it’s going to be impossible to catch him. It’s like a second tournament going on.”
Fowler cut his hair this year, but he has hardly dialed things back when it comes to his public image. He wore knickers during the opening round in honor of Payne Stewart, who won the first U.S. Open held at Pinehurst in 1999 but died in a plane crash a few months later.
“It was very special,” Fowler said. “I sent a message to Chelsea Stewart (Payne’s daughter) afterward and said, ‘I hope you guys liked it as much as I did,’ because it was a lot of fun walking around with her dad that day.”
Now, Fowler is hoping for a Stewart-like finish at Pinehurst.
Without the knickers.
As usual, he’ll go out for the final round in the gaudy colors of his alma mater, Oklahoma State.
“Straight up orange,” Fowler said.