LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rickie Fowler said coming close in the first three major championships of the year was fun. He tied for fifth at the Masters, then was second at both the US Open and Open Championship.
Coming close at the 96th PGA Championship, though? That feels much different. This one brought disappointment, because it was the only major in which Fowler actually held the outright lead during the final round.
“This is probably the one that hurts the most for me with the majors this year. The first three were a lot of fun, obviously to be in great positions and to get great finishes,” Fowler said. “This one I felt like I could go out today and win it.”
Only he didn’t, despite holding a one-stroke lead with eight holes to play on Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club. Neither did Phil Mickelson, who was paired with Fowler in the second-to-last twosome. Both could only watch as Rory McIlroy walked away with his second straight major, winning the PGA Championship by one shot.
Fowler hit one poor shot down the stretch, a pushed tee shot on the par-3 14th that missed the green and led to a costly bogey that kicked him out of the lead. And when Fowler needed to make a putt to tie, he didn’t give himself looks that were close enough or clear enough.
Play concluded at 8:44 p.m., not long after Fowler’s last-gasp bid for eagle at No. 18 — which would have tied McIlroy — ran past the hole.
“It was a little different playing the last few holes in the dark. Obviously wanted to try and make [eagle] at the last. Tough to see the read,” Fowler said. “Disappointed to come up short, but to look back on the full year and all four majors, definitely something to be proud of.”
Fowler had been in contention at all four majors. Not so Mickelson, who came to Valhalla without a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year. But a fast start with birdies at Nos. 1 and 3, and a pair of early bogeys by McIlroy, put Mickelson right in the thick of the chase. That he came up one shot shy didn’t do much to mask his frustration.
For Mickelson, what cost him his sixth major championship was easy to pinpoint.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome. I thought that had I been able to finish those last five, six holes strong, could have totally flipped the way I looked at this year,” said Mickelson, who fell out of a tie for the lead with a bogey at No. 16. “I know that regardless of how I played this week, I know that I’ve got to address some things these next three or four months.”
“Driving, short irons were terrible this year as a whole,” Mickelson said. “It’s usually a strength and I’ve got to get that back.”
Until then, there’s more golf to be played for Fowler and Mickelson. First the PGA Tour playoffs, then the Ryder Cup. Considering how both played on Sunday when paired together — they combined to make 11 birdies — don’t be surprised to see them sent out together in Scotland in some Ryder Cup matches.
By then, perhaps, the sting of coming so close at Valhalla will have subsided.
“It was definitely emotional as soon as I finished up. I really felt like I could win today,” Fowler said. “To come up a bit short . . . disappointed right now.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.