PEBBLE BEACH, CA. -- If anyone understands the saying, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" it might be Rickie Fowler.
The 30-year-old has posted nine top-10 finishes at majors in his career, including four consecutive top fives during the 2014 season. Almost every major Sunday you'll spot Fowler waiting by the clubhouse to congratulate whoever just added a major championship to their trophy case. He's been waiting patiently for his moment.
After firing a final-round 67 to finish one shot behind eventual champion Patrick Reed at the 2018 Masters, Fowler admitted he finally felt he was ready to break through at a major championship and understood what it takes.
That breakthrough might just come this week at Pebble Beach. Fowler put on a ball-striking clinic during Thursday's first round of the 2019 U.S. Open, hitting 11-of-12 fairways and 13-of-15 greens in regulation en route to a stress-free 5-under-par-66 that has him one off the lead set by Justin Rose.
"Yeah, that was a big week," Fowler said of the 2018 Masters following Thursday's first round. "Obviously, I had been in contention before, gotten close and been around, and had opportunities before, but to really kind of take the opportunity head on -- you know that back nine, the way I executed there was similar to today.
"So yeah, that back nine there was very big. Especially, this year as well I had a chance to make a bit of run and I had a couple of putts slide by, a couple missed yet. It's been a fun run. I think it's been a long road to get to the point where majors felt like another week. Because they are bigger, they're majors, there's a lot going on, but now it's time to soak it all up and have some fun."
Fowler certainly had some fun Thursday on Monterey Peninsula.
With the wind barely blowing and cloud cover keeping the fairways and greens soft, Fowler attacked the toothless course with all the precision of a world-renowned surgeon. He birdied the 502-yard, Par-4 second hole and then racked up birdies at No. 4 and No. 7 before dropping a shot with a bogey at No. 9.
Despite the bogey at No. 9, the back nine belonged to Fowler. He got the dropped shot back at No. 11, sticking a wedge to seven feet before burying a birdie putt. Fowler birdied No. 14 and No. 15 before stringing together three straight pars to finish the day at 5-under.
“I felt like that was about the highest score I could have shot today,” Fowler said. “Just happy with how stress-free and easy it was.”
With the course defenseless, Fowler played aggressively and put himself in position to be a factor at this U.S. Open. The Murrieta native is pleased with how he was able to take advantage of a windless Pebble and thinks he can rely on past major experiences to stay in calm and in the moment.
"I did a really good job of thinking through everything and being detailed," Fowler said. "If I had any worry, I backed off or made sure that I went through the process again. That gets more and more important especially when you get to Saturday, Sunday. Things start to speed up and I think that's been something that I've done a good job of the last few years and have learned from past experiences.
"It's a lot easier said than done, but I'm looking forward to it. Great start today. I loved what we were able to accomplish and it'll be nice to see if we can top that, or if not, keep matching it."
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Fowler once again is in position to become a major champion and finally lift the weight off his shoulders.
He just has to stay calm and patient when the course toughens up and Sunday very well could be his coronation.