x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Rickie Fowler forces his way in

Rory McIlroy says the more competition between players for honours the better it is for golf fans.

Rickie Fowler won his first PGA Tour title by clinching the Wells Fargo Championship. Chuck Burton / AP Photo
Rickie Fowler won his first PGA Tour title by clinching the Wells Fargo Championship. Chuck Burton / AP Photo

Barely a month after the year's opening major was billed as a two-horse race between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, there is now the prospect of a very different rivalry at the top of international golf.

Rickie Fowler captured his first PGA Tour victory with a win at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday at Quail Hollow in North Carolina where he beat McIlroy - who reclaimed the world No 1 ranking this week - and DA Points in a play-off to finally confirm his status as the bright young hope of American golf.

Fowler and Northern Ireland's McIlroy, who compete this week at the Players Championship in Florida, are both 23 years old and appeal to a younger demographic that the PGA Tour has been keen to capture to broaden its support base.

While the decline of Woods, who tied for 40th at last month's Masters, has allowed for a wide range of winners on the tour in recent years, McIlroy believes an elite group battling it out regularly against each other would appeal to fans.

"As a fan growing up watching golf, I loved that Tiger was dominant and I loved that there might be Phil Mickelson who would come and challenge him for a while and then Ernie Els and then Vijay Singh and then David Duval," McIlroy told reporters.

"I sort of liked that as a storyline. So it would be nice if a few people separated themselves from the rest ... I think for me if I was a golf fan, I'd like to see a rivalry."

Whether Fowler is part of any rivalry depends on whether he can find the consistency that has allowed McIlroy and England's Luke Donald to duel at the top of the world rankings but it is clear that he would be a welcome figure among the new elite.

McIlroy's disappointment on Sunday at missing out on a second PGA Tour win this year was tempered slightly by losing out to someone he has known and liked since their teens.

"We've known each other since playing some amateur golf together. I developed a really good relationship with him at the Walker Cup in 2007. I felt like he was the best player on that team at the time, and he was also the nicest guy," said McIlroy.

"So I got on with him really well then and met his family and stuff. It took him an extra couple of years to turn pro. I didn't really have much contact with him for those couple years, but since then, since he's been out on tour, I feel like it's been a good relationship.

"I always thought it was just a matter of time before he won ... He's a great player, and it's good to see that he's broken through."

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