Rickie Fowler delivered on his vast potential by claiming his first USPGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff against Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and fellow American D.A. Points at Quail Hollow on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Fowler finally justified his billing as one of the game’s top young players when he sank a four-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to claim victory at the Charlotte, North Carolina, course.
“It’s a good feeling right now,” Fowler told reporters after winning in his 67th professional start. “Definitely some relief, satisfaction.”
Despite losing out in the playoff, the finish ensured US Open champion McIlroy, who is also 23, would reclaim the No. 1 world ranking from Luke Donald.
Fowler fired a three-under 69 to join McIlroy (70) and Points (71) in the sudden-death playoff after tying at 14-under 274 after the regulation 72 holes.
Fowler, who had made the last US Ryder Cup team despite lacking a tour victory, saw the pressure lift off his shoulders when both Points and McIlroy missed their long birdie putts and had to settle for par.
McIlroy had left himself 34 feet from the cup after his approach shot and Points was 41 feet away.
Hometown favorite Webb Simpson, the third-round leader who lives less than 2km from the course, finished one stroke out of the playoff at 275 after posting a 73 for fourth place.
Two shots further back on 277 were Briton Lee Westwood (66) and Americans Ben Curtis (67) and Ryan Moore (74).
The Wells Fargo finish could presage a dynamic rivalry between the young Fowler and McIlroy, who two years ago fired a sensational, course-record 62 to win this tournament.
After all three players found the fairway with their playoff drives, Fowler set up victory with his brilliant approach.
All three golfers had the chance to clinch victory during the final holes.
Points had a one-shot lead going to the final hole of regulation, but knocked his approach shot into a bunker and took a bogey.
McIlroy had a shot at winning in regulation, but missed a 15 foot birdie putt at the last.
Fowler had the outright lead until he drove into a fairway bunker at the 16th and then hit to a greenside bunker. He two-putted from 10 feet for bogey to slide back.