“It was a good week; I might get another top five today,” he added.
With a final-round 72 that included three bogeys, Fowler did tie for fifth, six strokes behind the winner, Brooks Koepka. Fowler now has five top-five finishes at majors in the last four years. At this year’s Masters, he began the final round one stroke off the lead, then shot 76 and tumbled down the leaderboard into a tie for 11th.
He has been in the hunt heading into the final round of a major seven times without a victory, beginning in 2011. He also has 10 runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour.
Those kinds of results might grate on other players. And who knows? Deep down, it might vex Fowler, too.
When he held the first-round lead on Thursday, he talked about being called the best player without a major title.
“I take that as a compliment,” he said, but he conceded that “it would be nice to get rid of that at some point.”
Fowler is highly popular among his peers, gracious to everyone he interacts with in public and remains, with good reason, a fan favorite. He is only 28, which means he has many years left, and ranks ninth in the world. Certainly, there is no shame in coming up short, while still in your 20s, at the difficult pursuit of winning a major golf championship. This isn’t a 162-game baseball season. Golfers get only four chances per year to claim the sport’s foremost accolade.
But with every major Fowler enters, the clock is ticking, a pressure-filled ticktock that has dogged him in every fairway on every Sunday of a major championship for a few years now.
The clock is ticking not just because Fowler has been one of golf’s top talents this decade, but precisely because he often seems poised to win his first major championship — until the last day.
It’s not as if Fowler has collapsed at those pivotal moments, but there is no escaping the roll call of disappointments he has assembled in the spotlight. It’s highlighted by his 2014 season, when he finished in the top five of every major. At the time, it was viewed as an achievement that would presage Fowler’s ascent into the major champions club.
Looking back 10 majors later, did 2014 signal something else? Even if it was bad karma?
These are not new questions in golf. They were asked about Payne Stewart in the 1980s, until he won his first major. They were asked about Tom Kite, about David Duval, about Jim Furyk, about Phil Mickelson, about Dustin Johnson and about Sergio García. Until they each won a major.
In the meantime, there are signs Fowler has yet to master whatever it takes to become a major golf champion. On Sunday, he frequently did not resemble the player who had been 10 under par through the first three rounds. He hit 11 of 14 fairways and reached only 11 greens in regulation.
There were also the moments when Fowler needed a big shot and usually came up short. As his round was winding down, and it was obvious he needed something special to happen to catch Koepka, Fowler hit a wedge shot to the par-5 14th green that came up short and trickled back toward the fairway. A quality birdie opportunity became a routine par.
At the next hole, another short approach shot — 123 yards — stopped 45 feet from the hole.
Worse, from there, Fowler three-putted for a bogey.
At the par-3 16th, he pulled his tee shot into a daunting greenside bunker. Bravely, Fowler extracted his ball from the sand and almost sank the shot.
When it slid past the hole, he threw his hands up. Walking toward the green, he shook his head.
In a matter of minutes, it was over. Fowler stood near his golf bag a couple hundred yards from the 18th green, where Koepka was hoisting the championship trophy.
Fowler was talking about how sooner or later he believed he would be the one feted with the biggest ovation at the end of a major championship. His thoughts, however, returned to Sunday’s round.
“Yeah, no, it was tough out there,” he said.
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