Rested Rickie Fowler sees signs of progress in Wells Fargo Championship opener

American breaks par on return to action at tough Quail Hollow and is ready to make a mark at Kiawah Island after PGA Championship invite

Rickie Fowler's Masters experience this year was like ours; he watched it on TV.

Well, maybe not exactly like ours. His viewing companion for some of it was none other than Tiger Woods.

Woods, of course, had to miss the tournament through injury. But Fowler's absence from Augusta National for the first time since 2010 was due to failing to meet any of the 19 qualification criteria.

A place in the top 50 in the world rankings is usually the fallback option but the Californian - rub your eyes in disbelief now - is currently down at 116th.

While watching some of the action over at Tiger's house was fun, deep down Rickie would rather have been in Georgia than Florida.

This isn't the Fowler we're used to - the one that once finished in the top five in all four majors in the same season - but he isn't exactly a million miles away from discovering some better form.

In February he made the top 20 in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera; and before taking a breather after failing to qualify for the Masters, he posted tied 17th in the Valero Texas Open.

The good news for Fowler is that he won't miss the next Major: not because he's already secured qualification but, to some surprise and controversy, due to receiving a special exemption.

Fowler is as big as 125/1 with bet365 to win the PGA at Kiawah Island, a course he feels will suit him. Others go shorter at 80/1.

He's starting his build towards the second Major of the season with a start this week at Quail Hollow, one of his favourite courses.

The 32-year-old won the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012, was fifth there when it staged the 2017 PGA and also owns three other top sixes at the North Carolina course.

His opening round on Thursday looked to be highly promising when he birdied the 16th to move into the top five on 3-under. Two closing bogeys dropped him back but Fowler still saw the positives when he spoke to reporters later.

Fowler's stats in round one

Score: 1-under 71 (four birdies, three bogeys, 11 pars)

Fairways Hit: 12 of 14

Greens In Regulation: 13 of 18

Scrambling: 40%

Putts Per GIR: 1.769

On his round of 71

"It was nice. Obviously coming off of a little break, which we decided was going to be kind of a nice little reset through the middle of the season being that I was only really going to play Hilton Head in that month. So just decided, hey, let's take four weeks off, get a couple weeks to relax and get back on it the last couple. So coming off of that, felt good about a lot of things out there, felt like I left some shots out there, but to get 3 under on a morning that wasn't playing that easy necessarily.

"Unfortunate to give a couple away on the last two coming in. Yeah, it's good. Red numbers on Thursday are good. I've had some struggles getting off to decent starts over the last year or so. Step in the right direction, but still got some work to do. Happy about it. Go hit some balls and get ready for tomorrow."

On where his game is

"I think you could ask pretty much everyone out here, it's such a fine line between playing mediocre golf and good golf. Mediocre could even be bad. It's just a fine line out here as far as what looks decent versus playing proper golf. I know it's close.

"I think some of it was spending a lot of time working on the swing, which needed to be done, but probably spent a little bit too long of a time focusing and worrying about certain things, and the last few months has just been going out and playing just a bit more golf instead of playing golf swing. Yeah, it's just converting some stuff the way I've been hitting and playing at home to bring it back on the road."

On how much work he put in during his four weeks off

"Like I said, it's been a lot more just focusing on just playing golf and not worrying so much about swing and positions and things like that.

"So first two weeks was pretty light, minimal. Went to Troubadour up in Nashville with JT and Jordan and Smylie and our girls, so it was a fun three days just to kind of relax and have some fun together. And then the last two weeks I just spent a lot of time out playing. I would say over the course of the month, I don't think I took a video of any swings or anything like that. It was just more focused on go hit shots, go play golf, hit fairways, hit greens, make putts. A little bit more to like a little kid growing up."

On watching the Masters with Tiger

"I mean, between that and the British Open, those are two tournaments that I love to watch. Typically I'm in them and I'm watching either the morning or afternoon wave when I'm not playing, so it was a little different in that sort being at home.

"I did go over and watch a little bit with Tiger, so it was fun to be able to do that, talk about the course. And one of the days, Thursday, we were watching and just how firm and fast and kind of such a fine line how Augusta can be. We were definitely both very disappointed that we couldn't be out there to experience it because it's very few times where you do get to see Augusta that firm and fast.

"We were both in the same position. I guess not the same. Mine from not playing as well and him being laid up, but same position being that we weren't there. So yeah, both disappointed that we're not out there playing. But he's not lacking any fire in there right now. He never has."

On being given a special exemption for the PGA Championship

"I mean, I'm obviously happy about it. I feel like I've been told a while back I was already in. I didn't know I was going to need a special exemption or anything like that, so for that to all come full circle and to still be in, definitely happy being that I played the PGA there the last time it was there. I didn't play very well the last time I was there (74-80 and missed cut), but I feel like it's a good golf course for me and can play a little bit more linksy and play in the wind, which is something I like to do. Obviously thanks to the PGA to get me a spot there."

READ MORE: The leading seven players and key stats at the Wells Fargo Championship

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