CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rickie Fowler has never been afraid to put it all on the line.
The thrill-seeking passion for motocross as a teenager. The head-turning clothing he brought to the PGA Tour as a rookie, such as the bright orange ensemble from head-to-toe on Sundays. With a chance to finally break through for his first PGA Tour win, the kid showed his true colors.
In a three-way playoff that featured U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, the 23-year-old Fowler gambled with a 51-degree wedge that had to be perfect on an 18th hole at Quail Hollow that had yielded only four birdies all day.
And it was.
Fowler stuffed his shot within 4 feet for a birdie on the first extra hole to beat McIlroy and D.A. Points and win the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday. It was his first PGA Tour win in his 67th start as a pro, bringing him a small measure of relief and a big dose of credibility.
“I didn’t want to play it safe,” Fowler said. “I had a good number (133 yards), and I was aiming right of the hole with the wind coming out of the right, and if I hit a perfect shot, it comes down right on the stick. ... I hit a perfect shot at the right time, and I was going for it.”
McIlroy, who returned to No. 1 in the world, used Quail Hollow as a launching pad toward stardom when he won here two years ago. Perhaps this is the start of a rivalry for years between a pair of 23-year-olds who bring power, flair and exuberance to the game.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Rory for a long time,” said Flower, who closed with 3-under-par 69. “It’s awesome. It’s a long wait, but well worth it.”
McIlroy 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 for his first PGA Tour win, and the biggest of his career until adding a record-breaking U.S. Open title last summer at Congressional.
This time, it was Fowler’s turn.
“You wouldn’t call the 18th today a birdie hole with that pin,” McIlroy said. “For Rickie to go out and play that hole the way he did, he deserved to win.”
Along for the ride was Points, 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. He shot 71.
McIlroy had a shot at winning in regulation and missed a 15-foot birdie putt, giving him 70.
In the playoff, all three hit the fairway, with McIlroy hitting a 3-wood that traveled nearly 340 yards. Points and McIlroy were well off the mark and had to work hard to get their two-putt pars. Fowler came up with the best shot of his career.
“The shot he hit was spectacular,” Points said.
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.