Rickie Fowler fires Masters warning with flawless 64 at Shell Houston Open

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Fowler has built on a strong performance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational - Getty Images North America
Fowler has built on a strong performance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational - Getty Images North America

Considering the garishness of his outfits, it is hard to imagine Rickie Fowler ever getting away with hiding in the shadows. However, there is no doubt the brunt of the focus will be elsewhere when the golfing circus arrives at Augusta next week.

Except, Fowler’s stunning 64 here in the first round of the Shell Houston Open indicated that at least a portion of the Augusta spotlight should be reserved for this wildly popular 28-year-old.

Certainly, he is in the right form to launch a challenge for his first major crown. He won at last month’s Honda Classic, hammering a quality field by four shots, despite a scrappy end and, in his last event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he showed up well to finish in the top 12.

Fowler decided to skip last week’s WGC Match Play Championship to ensure he was fresh for the season’s first major and there was no doubting his energy yesterday. While seemingly everyone else was complaining about the negative affects of “mudballs” after Wednesday’s thunderstorms saturated this layout, Fowler simply skipped his way around and somehow managed to keep his card clean. Little wonder, he was all smiles, after this eight-under magnificence.

“Why shouldn’t I be happy? There’s a lot of good stuff going on,” Fowler said. “Family is great. I’ve been putting in work in the gym, I’ve spent some quality time with Butch [Harmon, his coach] the first two days here.

How long until the 2017 Masters gets underway at Augusta?

Yeah, I really like where I’m at right now.”

Where is he happens to be at the top of the leaderboard, enjoying a three-shot lead over fellow Americans Keegan Bradley and Vaughn Taylor.

For Harmon, Fowler is a classic second string. The veteran swing guru has the Masters favourite in his stable in Dustin Johnson. But Fowler should not be written off. He finished fifth there three years when standing only two off the lead going into the final round and he is undoubtedly a better player now. Plus he believes he is wiser.

Before, Fowler would often take the week off going into the majors. No longer. “I like playing my way in the majors and they’ve been able to do a great job here with just conditions around the greens and making it as similar,” Fowler said. His putter appeared to be as hot as it was in West Palm Beach. At the Honda Classic, Fowler made all of his 57 putts within seven feet and here he did not miss from within 10 feet. As a dress rehearsal, it was very impressive start indeed.

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