Rickie Fowler gives Irish Open a bonus boost with Sawgrass heroics
Rickie Fowler pats the House of Waterford crystal trophy

Rickie Fowler pats the House of Waterford crystal trophy

Ricky Fowler did the House of Waterford a huge favour by patting the crystal trophy after his incredible victory in The Players. He also gave the Irish Open another big publicity boost with just over a fortnight to go before he touches down at Royal County Down.

Tagged by Sports Illustrated in a anonymous poll of the most overrated PGA Tour players (alongside Ian Poulter) last week, Fowler's victory at TPC Sawgrass was the perfect riposte to the critics who looked to his two-win career as too little reward for too much hype. So much for that theory. 

His record setting birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish to force a playoff on 12 under, followed by a par-birdie-par run in the three hole aggregate playoff at the 16th, 17th and 18th against Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner that eliminated the Spaniard, was the stuff of legend.

That seven-hole run set up a return to the 17th for sudden death with Kisner and Fowler was not to be denied, hitting another stunning shot to around four feet set up a short birdie putt for victory that he brushed him with confidence.

If he was bothered by the SI poll, he wasn’t letting on in his media centre interview.

“No, I laughed at the poll,” he said. Then, reaching out to pat the House of Waterford Crystal trophy, he added: “But, yeah, if there was any question, I think this right here answers anything you need to know.”

It was a wonderful victory for golf at the end of a week that began with questions about a possible Rory-Jordan Spieth rivalry and ended with talk of a new Big Three - Rory, Rickie and Jordan.

As far as the European Tour is concerned, it’s Rickie and Rory when it comes to hyping up the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down in two and a half weeks’ time.

McIlroy finished tied for eighth, four shots outside the playoff on eight under par after rounds of 69 71 70 and 70. 

He was nine under for the back nine, but one over for the front. Questions were asked.

“I don't know,” Rory said. “I felt like again I hit the ball very well from tee to green and I just didn't hit it close enough on the front nine this week, I feel. 

“I feel like there's a lot more chances on the back nine anyway, but even if I could have went out in 33 or 34 a couple of times it would have made a big difference. 

“But yeah, just one of those golf courses you feel like you play well, you walk off with 70 and you're quite frustrated. So, still another solid week. A lot of positives to take from tee to green, just need to go home over the next couple of days and work on my putting a little bit and hopefully it will be a bit better for next week.”

McIlroy’s putting will have to improve in Charlotte this week when he plays in the Quail Hollow Championship before flying “home” for the BMW PGA and the Irish Open.

"Maybe [I’m] just hitting putts a little too soft at times out there. So, I'll try to get the speed a bit better next week and be a bit more aggressive on the greens and hopefully that will make a difference.”

Then he added: “I’m leaving frustrated again.  It's just that sort of course. You look at the scores out there, no one is going low. I'm three behind the leader and that's coming off feeling like I've left between five and 10 shots out there this week, so….”

As for the future Rory-Rickie-Jordan rivalry, Fowler said: “There's a lot of great players right now, a lot of young guys playing well, Rory being No. 1. He's done so well at playing at No. 1 and dealing with everything being the best player in the world. And then Jordan playing well and being No. 2 now, I think -- I think Jordan said earlier that there was some work to be done to be considered a rival of Rory's. 

“Rory has distanced himself a bit from this group of younger guys, but there's going to be a lot of good competition in the years to come. Like I said, a lot of great young players, and none of us are afraid. We're ready to go to battle and have some fun.”

Pádraig Harrington finished tied 42nd on two under thanks to a five under 67 in the final round, the joint best round of the day alongside Fowler and Jamie Donaldson, who tied for eighth with McIlroy.

The Dubliner birdied the third, fourth and sixth and then picked up two more shots at the 11th and 12th.

That he had 31 putts and still shot five under is testament to his ball-striking and a positive sign for the rest of the season.

Graeme McDowell shot 71 to finish tied 56th on level par after a round that saw him birdie the first, sixth and eighth only to take sixes at the par five ninth and 16th holes