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Fowler, a fan favorite, takes centre stage for the weekend at the U.S. Open on TSN

Rickie Fowler Rickie Fowler - The Canadian Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fan favorite. An underdog. A comeback story.

All those storylines are in play heading into the weekend at the U.S. Open.

And, as luck would have it, they are all wrapped up in the same player — Rickie Fowler.

One of the sport's most popular personalities has been emerging from a three-year slump, and now he's heading into the weekend at Los Angeles Country Club with a one-shot lead and as good a chance as he's had in a while to capture his first major championship.

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“This is where I want to be,” Fowler said as he spoke with about a dozen reporters in a media tent usually reserved for players in the hunt. “It's nice to be back in here.”

As much as his round — an eight-birdie, six-bogey, 2-under 68 roller coaster that left him one shot ahead of Wyndham Clark — Fowler was asked about his struggles of the past few years and how he managed to make it through that rough patch without sacrificing his everyman, and everykid, persona.

“I feel like I've always been myself, and I don’t try and do anything different or be anyone else,” he explained. “I sure hope I come off as genuine. I feel like I’m just me being myself out here and love what I get to do.”

Whether he's posting pictures from spring break to his millions of social media followers or rushing out to the 18th green to be the first to congratulate one of those friends, Fowler is a favorite both inside and outside the ropes.

“Golf’s better when Rickie’s playing well,” top-ranked Scottie Scheffler said.

When Fowler rose to fame, he seemed destined for big-time success, potentially headed to the same level as his friends, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014, a string of great play that made it seem all but sure he'd break through soon.

He won The Players Championship the next year, vaulted as high as fourth in the world rankings and cashed in as among the first in his sport to truly embrace the direct connection to fans that's available through Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the rest.

He wore colorful clothes, that trademark flat-billed hat and spawned a legion of Rickie Fowler lookalikes in the galleries, often dressed head-to-toe in neon orange, sometimes even sporting a Fowler-esque moustache to complete the look.

He wrapped up his last win in 2019 at the most fitting setting imaginable — on Super Bowl Sunday in Phoenix, in front of as raucous a crowd as there is in golf.

About a year later, and without much warning, Fowler's game imploded at around the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

He sunk to as low as 185th in the world. This is only the third major he's qualified for over the last two years. It's the first time he's been in the U.S. Open since 2020. He switched caddies and reunited with his previous coach, Butch Harmon.

“I think you’d be lying if you say you haven’t been through a tough time, especially if you play golf,” Fowler said.

But off the course, his life got better. He's married with a daughter now.

“I just feel like I have a lot more going for me than I did then,” he said.

The golf part is looking up, too. Now more than ever, he knows how fickle that part can be.

“Definitely appreciation, gratitude, knowing it’s a very humbling sport,” Fowler said when asked how it felt to have his mojo back. “There is some relief that that three years is behind us. But like I said, appreciate the good times because you never know when things are going to go south.”


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