Coming off the most disappointing year of his career, Rickie Fowler entered the CJ Cup's final round with a two-shot lead. But despite a 1-under 71 that dropped him to T-3, there was plenty to hang his hat on.
"It felt good to finally hit the golf ball properly, at least most of the time, for 72 holes," Fowler said after finishing at 22 under, three back of winner Rory McIlroy. "A lot of quality shots, a lot of good swings this week. Drove the ball well, which set me up to play golf around this place. That's the first key is, one, staying out of the desert and driving it in the fairway. We did a really good job."
One of those rare times that didn't go well for Fowler was a double bogey on The Summit Club's par-5 sixth after his approach shot landed 54 yards left of the hole and he was forced to take a penalty stroke.
"Today, I mean, I just had a couple swings that got me out of position," Fowler said. "One, I had to take an unplayable lie, which I was really just trying to hit it up the left part of the green there, just got a touch left of my line. And then a couple three-putts. Struggled a bit on the greens just with feel and speed. So really, all in all, you factor that in, miss a couple opportunities coming down the last couple, we're only three shots back of Rory. So a lot of good stuff. Obviously disappointed, but this is a big step in the right direction with where we've been in the last two years."
The CJ Cup, which Fowler was playing on a sponsor's exemption, was the 32-year-old's first top-10 since the PGA Championship in May. But Fowler's play on the greens prevented him from getting his first win since the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He was 51st out of the 78-player field in strokes gained: putting. However, he was first in the field in strokes gained: off the tee and tee to the green.
The five-time Tour winner has held a 54-hole lead eight times in his career but has only twice converted those into victory, the 2017 Honda Classic and 2019 Phoenix Open. Nobody on Tour has converted a 54-hole lead into a win since Phil Mickelson at the PGA, except for Patrick Cantlay at the Tour Championship, however, he was ahead due to the staggered-strokes format.
After missing the cut at the Shriners Children's Open last week, Fowler is trusting the work he's put in the last few months to ensure he doesn't have another season like last, where he failed to qualify for the Masters, U.S. Open and the FedExCup playoffs. And so far, he likes how his game has shaped up, despite not holding up a trophy at the end of two weeks in Las Vegas.
"Just keeping it simple knowing the few things that we're working on, keep focusing on that, keep trusting it," he said. "It's been a long journey, but definitely thankful for the team around me, my wife, Allison, and Joe (Skovron) on the bag. And (John) Tillery (his swing coach), he's spent countless hours trying to get me on the right track and have my back."
Fowler will head to Japan for next week's Zozo Championship and plans to straighten out his putting once he touches down across the Pacific.