LOS ANGELES (AP) — From his electric opening-round 62 to his neon-orange Sunday ensemble, Rickie Fowler showed off just about everything during the 123rd U.S. Open that once made him one of the most compelling figures in golf.
Unfortunately, that also included another painful fade from title contention after he took a share of the lead into the last round.
Fowler stumbled to a 75 Sunday, finishing in a three-way tie for fifth at Los Angeles Country Club. After 18 holes alongside eventual champion Wyndham Clark, Fowler ended up five shots back with the worst final round among the top 19 finishers.
To be sure, there was a significant bright side to Fowler’s week, and the veteran chose to focus on that after warmly congratulating his Sunday playing partner.
“After the last few years, being in this position, how comfortable I felt this week, this is great,” Fowler said. “As much as it sucks to not be in the position I wanted to be after today, we’re just continuing to build and continuing to move forward. Not the finish I wanted, but there’s a lot of really good things to take from this week.”
Indeed, Fowler capped his comeback from several years of disappointing play with his best result at a major since his runner-up finish at the 2018 Masters. He even set a U.S. Open record with 23 birdies over his four rounds at LACC, playing phenomenal golf for long stretches.
But after taking at least a share of the lead into each of the final three rounds and matching up with the untested Clark on Sunday, Fowler will know he let the opportunity of a lifetime slip away in his native Southern California. Fowler has played in the final group three times in a major, but has yet to claim a trophy.
“I just didn’t have it today,” Fowler said. “Iron play was very below average, and didn’t make any (putts). That’s a big thing in majors, especially on a Sunday, making putts and keeping it fairly stress-free. It was kind of the opposite. I was fighting through it all day.”
Clark also posted his worst score of the tournament Sunday, and he was available to be caught while he steadily persevered to an even-par 70.
Runner-up Rory McIlroy shot even par with no birdies on his final 17 holes, never making the move many expected from the superstar.
But Fowler made three bogeys on his first seven holes, and he made four more bogeys on the back nine. Everything betrayed him at different times: his driver, his irons, his short game and his putter.
Fowler dropped back to 6 under when his drive on the 12th landed in a hole in the rough and he missed a tough 12-foot putt. He still broke Brendan Steele’s 2017 U.S. Open record for birdies with his 23rd of the week on the 14th, but he missed a 24th birdie by an inch on the 15th, running his putt just right of the hole.
“I thought if I could make that putt on (15), which I nearly did, I thought that might kind of give me a shot to get a two-shot swing and maybe make a run in the last three (holes),” Fowler said. “No, I knew I was on the outside looking in. But at the same time, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s tough to close out a major.”
He finished with one final bogey on the 18th, hitting his approach into the rough just off the green before leaving a 14-foot putt 6 inches short while the large gallery waited to celebrate Clark.
Fowler was gracious in Clark’s big moment, hugging his playing partner and telling Clark his late mother would have been proud. He’s still waiting for his own chance to celebrate a major with family and friends — and he had a legion in the galleries at LACC, 90 minutes from his native Murrieta.
But Fowler still has never won a major, and his only win anywhere since early 2017 was at the 2019 Phoenix Open. Fowler’s game isn’t all the way back, but he’s also a new father with an improved perspective on the game — and he made plenty of friends in Los Angeles by staying late to sign autographs after his rounds.
The Open is another sign of revitalization for the player once thought to be the future of the sport. Starting at Torrey Pines in January, he has nine top-15 finishes in his last 12 tournaments, including three straight top 10s as he heads to the Travelers Championship in Connecticut next week.
“I definitely think we’re heading the right direction,” Fowler said. “It’s been nice to be back and have chances in tournaments, or at least getting solid finishes. We had a lot of good stuff this week.”