Rickie Fowler finally picked up his first PGA Tour win Sunday in what might be the start of a rivalry for years to come.
Fowler brought style and substance to a sudden-death playoff at Quail Hollow and delivered a clutch shot - a wedge to 4 feet - and birdied the 18th hole to win the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., over US Open champion Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points.
The 23-year-old Fowler has been talked about as the next American star since he turned pro with his flashy colors and all-orange outfits on Sundays, his trademark. Now he has a trophy to back up the hype, coming in his 67th start as a pro on the Tour.
And he beat the 23-year-old McIlroy to do it.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Rory for a long time,’’ said Fowler, who closed with a 3-under-par 69. “It’s awesome. It’s a long wait, but well worth it.’’
McIlroy (70) established himself on the same green two years ago, a 20-year-old who closed out a record 62 by making a 40-foot putt. This time, it was Fowler’s turn.
Along for the ride was Points (71), a 35-year-old who had the tournament in his grasp until ending 40 straight holes without a bogey by making one at the worst time. He had a one-shot lead going to the 18th in regulation, hit his approach in a bunker and never came close to a par.
McIlroy had a shot at winning in regulation and missed a 15-foot birdie putt.
In the playoff, all three hit the fairway, with McIlroy hitting a 3-wood that traveled nearly 340 yards. Fowler’s wedge covered the flag and spun some 4 feet away. Points went long and did well to two-putt for his par, making the second one from 12 feet. McIlroy hit his wedge well right of the flag and had to work hard for a two-putt par.
That set the stage for Fowler, and he wasn’t about to let this chance get away.
Even though they’re the same age, McIlroy has a two-year head start on Fowler. They were in the Walker Cup together in 2007, and McIlroy turned pro that fall. Fowler didn’t turn pro until two years ago.
Fowler had the outright lead until he went bunker to bunker on the 16th hole, the second time drawing a plugged lie, and missed a 10-foot par putt. He had a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole, though it never had a chance. He was the first one in at 14-under 274.
McIlroy went long of the green on the 17th and missed an 8-foot par putt, but when Points struggled on the 18th, McIlroy had a putt for the win.
Webb Simpson, the 54-hole leader who lives a mile from Quail Hollow, made a mess of the eighth hole for a bogey and three-putted the 11th to fall back. Back-to-back birdies late in his round kept his hopes alive, and he had a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th to join the playoff. It missed and he had a 73 to finish alone in fourth.
Fowler earned $1.17 million and achieved his primary goal of winning on the Tour. That should help him reach his other marks this year, getting to the Tour Championship for the first time and perhaps getting another spot on the Ryder Cup team.
He was picked as rookie in 2010 and showed his promise by winning the last four holes to earn a halve in his singles match. McIlroy is far more accomplished, with a major championship and a return to No. 1 in the world.
But as a generational shift in golf continues, this could be a rivalry worth watching.
Champions - Fred Funk birdied the final hole to finish with a 5-under 67 for a 14-under 202 total, edging Tom Lehman by a stroke to win the Insperity Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.
Tied with one hole left, Funk hit his approach at No. 18 to 2 feet of the hole. Lehman (68) missed his birdie putt, and Funk tapped in for his seventh victory on the 50-and-over tour and first since 2010.
Season points leader Michael Allen, who was going for his third straight win, finished five shots back after a 71.
European - Francesco Molinari shot a 7-under 65 to win the Spanish Open in Seville by three strokes over Pablo Larrazabal (71), Alejandro Canizares (69), and Soren Kjeldsen (69).
Molinari finished at 8-under 280 in the 100th edition of the tournament for his third victory on tour. He entered the final round four strokes behind leader Simon Dyson, who shot a 76 and tied for 12th place.