A year ago, Rickie Fowler was peppered with questions ahead of The Players about a Sports Illustrated anonymous PGA Tour survey in which a plurality of his peers said he was the most overrated player on Tour. Then he goes out and has the best finish in the history of The Players, playing the final six holes in 6 under, getting into a three-man, three-hole aggregate playoff and winning on the fourth hole with his third birdie of the day at the par-3 17th.
Since that day, Fowler missed the cut at the U.S. Open, had two lackluster major finishes and went packing at the Masters last month. He's missed chances to win on the PGA Tour, in a playoff at Phoenix and last week in Charlotte. However, he has won in Scotland, in the Deutsche Bank Championship and in Abu Dhabi.
A year after Fowler's peers weighed in, GNN's Ryan Ballengee and Kevin Power debate: Is Rickie Fowler still overrated?
KEVIN POWER: 100 percent yes. The Players victory and finish, as well as the two European Tour victories, was helpful in quieting those who called him "all hype and little substance." However, even though The Players may be colloquially called the Fifth Major, it is still so far from being in the same universe as the majors.
I also would call 2014 a great year for building momentum toward winning a major, and since that year in which he finished in the top five in all four majors and his T-12 at the 2015 Masters, that momentum has come to a halt.
RYAN BALLENGEE: I spoke with Fowler at last year's PGA Championship, and he suggested that his struggles in the majors since 2014 can somewhat be attributed to the pressure he's placing on himself to live up to that all-top-five run two years ago. The wins he's achieved since then certainly have built up his confidence that he belongs in the conversation of the best players in the game. The downside is that the guys that make up the Big 3 have passed him in major championship performance. So, that pressure comes back and then some.
I don't think Fowler is an overrated player because he's put himself in position to win time and again, and, in the last 18 months, he's sealed the deal more often than not when he has a chance to win. His potential is up there with anyone. The question is if he can dial in for a week and win that first major which could be a catapult for his career in the same way that his win at Sawgrass was last year.
KP: So you're saying Fowler felt added pressure from almost winning a major? If you really look back at his 2014 run, which one should he have actually won? Maybe the PGA Championship (at Valhalla) until he he realized the run he was on, peeked at the board and felt the footsteps of Rory McIlroy.
Streaky is a great way to describe him, especially with the putter, which catapulted him to victory at last year's Players. But when he misses a few short ones, can he turn that 80 like he had at the Masters into a 73 to hang around?
And don't forget some of the legendary figures to conquer Sawgrass in the past 15 years: Craig Perks, Stephen Ames, Tim Clark, K.J. Choi, Fred Funk. Then there are the almost superstars - Davis Love III (twice), Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia - who have won. Garcia is the current active leader in consecutive Players cuts made. What does that tell you about The Players?
I think Rickie is great for kids, growing the game, he seems like a nice, smart guy who sure hired the right representation. I also like his go-for-broke style, yet that comes with streaky, inconsistent play as well.
RB: Then again, look at winners of the PGA since Players began. Quite a few doozies in there. I like The Players because anyone can win there, not a specialist as you'll find at Augusta and the Opens. But this isn't a referendum on The Players; it's a question of Fowler's talent versus his hype. He may not be where some of his peers are now but golf has a funny way of looking different over years than months. Let's end with this: Do you think Fowler wins a major in his career?
KP: I'm going to say no. I have him in the same category right now as Dustin Johnson. The only way they win a major is going out early, firing a low number on Sunday to post a score and waiting it out. I don't think he can sleep on the 54-hole and close. That being said, I think Rickie is a lot closer to winning than D.J.
But on the contrary, to your point of golf looking different over years, He could also end up like his practice round partner, who I also thought would never win a major: Phil Mickelson. Win later than expected, then consistently contend for the rest of his career.
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