Is Rickie Fowler a good bet for Torrey Pines? Maybe, but he’s got to get there first

The Californian will have to come through qualifying on Monday to secure a spot in the US Open field in San Diego later this month.

For a large chunk of the previous decade, one of the big storylines ahead of each major was whether this would be Rickie Fowler's time to join the club.

The American was a regular contender, posting his first top five in a major in the 2011 Open Championship at this year's venue, Royal St. George's.

In 2014 he famously finished in the top five in all four, ending tied for second in both the US Open at Pinehurst No.2 and the Open Championship at Hoylake.

The challenges kept coming and he logged a third runners-up finish in the 2018 Masters, finishing just a single stroke behind winner Patrick Reed.

Fowler took his tally of major top 10s to 11 with another pair in 2019 and was ranked 10th in the world at the time of his tied ninth at Augusta National.

But an alarming slide down the world rankings meant Rickie didn't get his annual invite from the green jackets in 2021. He didn't meet any of the qualification criteria and had to miss his first major since the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach.

He would have missed the PGA Championship too but, somewhat controversially, Fowler was handed a special invite to compete at Kiawah Island.

The week before heading to South Carolina, his world ranking had dipped to 128th at the AT&T Byron Nelson: would the PGA of America's decision to give him a place look ill-conceived?

Fowler had hinted that his game was starting to turn with a top 20 in the Texas Open and a coastal track such as Kiawah Island looked a good fit.

Thankfully for all concerned he more than justified his place in the field with a tie for eighth place, securing his biggest haul of ranking points since a tied sixth in the 2019 Open Championship.

However, a top 10 at the PGA and rise up the rankings to 101st wasn't enough to secure a spot in the US Open and the USGA weren't going to wave him on in either.

There was one last chance: a top-two finish in last week's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.

Fowler made a decent fist of it but eventually had to settle for tied 11th.

It means, for one of golf's most popular characters to grab a place in the US Open field, he'll have to come through a 36-hole qualifier in Columbus on Monday. The hopefuls play 18 at Brookside G&CC and then another lap at The Lakes G&CC.

The good news is that Fowler has some history at those courses. In 2008, he shot a 66 at Brookside and although a 73 at Ohio State's Scarlet Course left him in a play-off which he lost, Fowler got to Torrey Pines as the first alternate, eventually going on to finish T60 at this year's venue.

In 2009 he played both this year's qualifying courses, carding a 70 at Brookside and a 65 at The Lakes to book a spot at Oakmont (MC). He returned to those two tracks in 2010 but didn't get through to Pebble.

However, that generally past positive history and recent uptick in form suggests Fowler could be a factor at Torrey Pines if he makes it through.

Here we look at his improved stats in the last two events and his thoughts on Monday's qualifier.

Fowler's return to form

Memorial Tournament

SG: Off The Tee: 48th (-0.610)

SG: Approach: 30th (1.552)

SG: Around The Green: 12th (3.282)

SG: Putting: 9th (3.892)

SG: Tee To Green: 21st (4.227)

SG: Total: 11th (8.122)

PGA Championship

SG: Off The Tee: 71st (-2.027)

SG: Approach: 17th (4.477)

SG: Around The Green: 24th (2.173)

SG: Putting: 13th (4.381)

SG: Tee To Green: 35th (4.623)

SG: Total: 8th (9.004)

This season

SG: Off The Tee: 66th

SG: Approach: 154th

SG: Around The Green: 9th

SG: Putting: 143rd

SG: Tee To Green: 66th

SG: Total: 89th

Summary

The big recent improvements vs his season-long stats can be seen in Fowler's Approach and Putting numbers. They're way up.

Despite being a California boy, Fowler's course form at Torrey Pines in January's Farmers Insurance Open has been disappointing since a good run early in his career.

However, the course will play very differently in June and most of those who finished in the top 10 in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines had poor form in the Farmers so there's a viable argument that it can be glossed over.

More important are Fowler's current numbers which suggest he can build on those promising displays at Kiawah Island and Memorial.

Ahead of US Open qualifying, Fowler is a best 80/1 with Unibet (&14; five places) to win the US Open.

It might be worth waiting to see if he does actually qualify although that price could go if he cruises through. The next biggest is 66/1.

Fowler quotes after Memorial T11

Here's what Rickie said after his closing 70 at Muirfield Village when questioned about US Open qualifying. Note that Fowler also revealed he'd been vaccinated which means punters don't have to fear a Jon Rahm situation.

Q: What kind of attitude do you feel like you have to take to qualify?

"Just go get some good food tonight, get some good sleep, rest up. It will be a long day. Hopefully we can dodge some rain and storms in the afternoon. Other than that, it's just about kind of just move forward. I did a pretty good job of that this week, a few mistakes. It's bound to happen at this place. But tomorrow we're playing at golf courses that are maybe a little less demanding than a place like Memorial or Muirfield. But, no, just move forward, keep going."

Q: Do you embrace this? Do you see this as an opportunity in some ways?

"Yeah, well, I mean, because, I mean, obviously, I didn't qualify off of points or World Rankings for the US Open, so go out tomorrow, have a chance to go qualify and get myself a spot, a tee time in a week and a half time from now, but if not it wasn't on the schedule because I didn't qualify already. So we'll see what we can go do tomorrow and it will be a bonus if we get to go play Torrey Pines."

Q: Top-10 PGA, do you feel like you are trending?

"Heading the right way. Tillery and myself and the team put in plenty of work over quite a while. It took some time for it to kind of start kicking in, but put plenty of time in on the swing and kind of how the body was working, and then the past three, four months it's been more just focusing on playing golf, hitting shots, kind of got everything out of the way and took care of that. It was just get back to play golf. I mean, you can't go out there and play golf swing. So that's where it's kind of been starting to come together with a little extra work I've been doing on putting to get that back. It's nice to have some confidence again. That was something that made the last year and a half even worse. I didn't have the flat stick to save me. So everything started to come around. Definitely happy about the last few tournaments, just the start of it going forward."

Q: Is one part of your game you really want to have working tomorrow, would it be putting? You want to hole as many putts, right, as possible?

"I mean putting, if I make a bunch of putts, that would be great. Definitely rolled it nice today. I was hitting my lines, felt like a lot better on speed versus yesterday. I would say another big part is driving the ball well. Get the ball in play and then it's putting for birdie, not trying to save par."

READ MORE: US Open: Who's hot and who's not for this month's showdown at Torrey Pines

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