The 2017 Masters has produced the first occasion in which Rickie Fowler has shared the lead at the end of a round in any major tournament. It is a surprising statistic if you think back to 2014, when Fowler had a shout to win all four majors before coming up empty-handed.
It was the spring and summer of 2014 when Rickie Fowler really emphasised that he could be a major champion of the future.
At the time he had just one PGA Tour title to his name, the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, to go with the 2011 Kolon Korea Open on the OneAsia Tour, but in 2014 he became just the third golfer ever to finish in the top-five of all four majors in a single season.
Fowler finished tied for fifth at the Masters after a final-round 74, while Bubba Watson won for the second time; he finished joint runner-up at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst when Martin Kaymer set scoring records galore over the first two rounds, ultimately winning by eight; Fowler shot 67 in the final round of The Open to push winner Rory McIlroy to the line, with Fowler finishing tied for second place with Sergio Garcia; and then Fowler temporarily held the final-round lead in the PGA Championship at Valhalla, amid the most exciting majors finale of the year.
But as dark, forbidding storm clouds rolled along the Ohio River Valley and over the city of Louisville, Fowler couldn’t clinch the putts to keep up with McIlroy – him again. Fowler finished two shots behind and found the misses got more painful as they came.
“The PGA is the one that hurt most for me in the majors in 2014,” he later reflected. “In the first three it was a lot of fun to be in great positions and to have great finishes, but at Valhalla I really felt I could go out there and win it. It stung. Still, to look back on the year, it was pretty awesome through the majors and something I can be proud of.
“Rory played great in the PGA. He was a deserving champion but I’ll see if I can sneak one away from him at some point.”
“It beat us up [to have lost the PGA Championship],” said Joe Skovron, Fowler’s caddie. “We thought we were going to win that tournament. I wholeheartedly believed it; Rickie wholeheartedly believed it. But that’s what golf is.”
Since 2014 the majors have not gone to plan for Fowler, with his best subsequent result coming at the 2015 Masters, when he finished tied for 12th behind another record-breaker, Jordan Spieth.
Never mind he was only the third golfer of the modern era to finish all four majors in the top-five in one year, a feat shared only by Jack Nicklaus (1971, 1973) and Tiger Woods (2000, 2005). This achievement is double-sided, as the big difference with Nicklaus and Woods is that they both triumphed in at least one of those major challenges in each of their top-five sweeps, unlike Fowler.
As the second half of the 2017 Masters gets underway at Augusta National, we know that only one finishing place will satisfy Fowler come Sunday night.
Fowler tees off in the third round today at 2:50pm (7:50pm BST) with one of his co-leaders, Thomas Pieters, in the penultimate pairing behind other joint leaders Charley Hoffman and Sergio Garcia.