Here's why I'm picking Rickie Fowler to win the Masters... for the third year in a row
Stop me if you're heard this before: This is the year Rickie Fowler wins The Masters.
I wrote this same column two years ago before Sergio Garcia broke through for his first major win at Augusta.
However, after finishing second last year, Rickie Fowler's ninth go-around (yes, nine) will be the time he tames Augusta National.
Fowler is playing well so far this season. But not well enough that he's got all the pressure in the world on him (see: McIlroy, Rory). He has a win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a tie for second at the Honda Classic in nine starts, but he has only one other top-10 otherwise.
An explanation for that is that he's been transitioning into a new TaylorMade golf ball this season, which could lead to ups and downs with his play. That makes his win in Phoenix, in just his second start with the ball, that much more impressive.
As he arrived at Augusta this week, he seemed to indicate the transition was over.
“I’m more ready than I’ve ever been,” Fowler said at his Masters Monday press conference. “Not saying that I can sit up here and tell you I’m definitely going to win, but I like my chances. I love this place. I know I can play well around here.”
His record at Augusta speaks for itself. With four top-15s, including last year's solo second and 2014's tie for fifth (the year he finished in the top-5 in all four majors), it's one of the best records without a win.
Fowler also has some numbers on his side this year.
Known as a fantastic putter, Fowler ranks eighth in strokes-gained putting this season, crucial on Augusta's sloping and lightening fast greens.
Fowler also best fits the average of the last six Masters champions. Since Bubba Watson's 2014 win, the average Masters winner was 30 years old and was ranked 11.67 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Fowler is 30 years old and ranked 9th.
The 12th-ranked player in the world is the walking legend himself, Tiger Woods, who as we know, is well north of 30. No. 11 Paul Casey is also north of 40 years old. Tenth-ranked Xander Schauffele is just 25.
There are more reasons why Fowler is a solid pick, one being his odds at 16-1, tied for fifth best, according to SportsLine. However, one of the reasons I keep making this pick is how great it would be for the game.
Fowler is transcendent. He's still fairly young and he's probably the most marketable golfer in the United States who doesn't wear red on Sundays (I'm not talking about Patrick Reed). It's one of the reasons you see him in so many commercials when watching tournament coverage.
He resonates with groups of people who wouldn't otherwise pay attention to golf. Probably because Fowler isn't the well-off country club kid who spent thousands upon thousands of dollars a year on golf instruction.
More relatable stars have come about in recent years, but Fowler has shown he can relate to non-golf fans like almost no other.
Now, the game just needs him to win a major. This week might be the perfect time to do it.
But hey, if he doesn't win, we can just all write these columns again next year.