Entering the final round, Rickie Fowler is 0-for-8 in events he’s either led or been within a shot of the lead in his PGA Tour career.
Based on how the Honda Classic has unfolded to this point, the chances of him going 0-for-9 seem remote.
Fowler backed up his pair of opening 66s with a 5-under 65 Saturday to open a four-shot lead over Englishman Tyrrell Hatton heading into today’s final round.
Asked about that 0-fer statistic, Fowler replied, “Maybe that’s just a little bit of bad luck. I mean, every once in a while, guys happen to light it up on Sunday.”
As Fowler pointed out, he’s averaged 69 on the weekend, of which he added, “I think that’s pretty good. So I wouldn’t have to change that a whole lot.”
While Fowler, 28, has become one of the most identifiable players on the PGA Tour, and a particular favorite among the young set who mimic his colorful clothes and wide-brim hats, he has amassed only three wins in 178 events since the start of his career in 2010.
But fans in recent years have witnessed a more determined, channeled Fowler, and the results have been coming: a win at Wells Fargo in 2012, in both the Players Championship and Deutsche Bank in 2015, at Abu Dhabi last year.
He showed the kind of down-the-stretch mettle it takes to win the last three events, beating Kevin Kisner on the fourth hole of a playoff at TPC-Sawgrass, edging Henrik Stenson by one shot at Deutsche Bank and firing a final-round 69 to edge Belgium’s Thomas Pieters by one shot and Rory McIlroy by two at Abu Dhabi.
While two of Fowler’s five tournaments this year were non-sanctioned events, he’s shown well, finishing sixth in a WGC in China, fourth at the Phoenix Open, and second and third, respectively, in the non-sanctioned World Cup of Golf and Hero World Challenge.
“I definitely need to put myself in this position more often, which is just going to lead me to win more often,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to take the 36- or 54-hole lead every time and win, but the more times you put yourself there, the more trophies I get to hold on Sunday.”
Holding the Honda trophy was a realistic goal for as many as a dozen players entering Saturday, but almost all of the others faltered. Tour rookie Wes Bryan hung with Fowler with a 1-under 34 for the front nine only to go bogey-double bogey at Nos. 14 and 15 to land in a five-way tie at 7-under.
Argentine Emiliano Grillo was on the other side of that equation, firing a 5-under 65 after starting at 2 under. Sean O’Hair (65), Gary Woodland (66) and Martin Kaymer (68) also find themselves at the edge of contention, five shots back, but only if Fowler stumbles.
This marks the third consecutive week on the Tour that a player has finished strong in the third round to open up a sizable lead going into the fourth. Jordan Spieth shot a 65 on Saturday and coasted to a four-shot win at Pebble Beach two weeks ago, and Dustin Johnson led by as many as eight strokes and won by five after his third-round 64 last week in Los Angeles.
“I’d like to have a 10-shot lead, or more,” Fowler said with a smile. “There’s a lot that can happen, because you can hit a good shot and you can make birdies. So there can be a big swing there.”
Fowler has played the Honda seven times, with a sixth-place finish last year and a seventh in 2007 his best finishes. A Jupiter resident for six years, he admitted this would be a special win if he can close the deal.
“You know, a chance to win this tournament would be special,” he said. “Being a resident down here for almost seven years now, this is where I spend most of my time.
“I love it here. Love Jupiter. Got a lot of the guys that live down here. We get to play and practice together when we’re home, and we travel together. So it’s special.
“We’ve got a lot of locals from the Jupiter area here, obviously, and a lot of good friends, and some of my family out. Any win is special, but being able to stay in my bed and at home and (with) home-cooked meals would make it that much more nice.”