For all the appreciation of McIlroy’s achievements in being a Masters victory away from completing the set of four professional majors, there is a determination in Fowler and a host of young Americans to spoil the Irishman’s party and make a piece of history for themselves.
Fowler, 26, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, 30, have all come close to winning majors on a Sunday back nine but came up short. They each believe this year’s Masters could be their breakthrough major and they certainly have the games to make it so. All they have to do is get in the way of the world number one and what seems like his destiny.
“That’s making history right there,” said Fowler of his friend’s quest for a career slam. “He’s obviously the best player in the world for a reason. He’s played quite well the past couple years. I know he struggled a bit for a year or so. But the year he put together last year, winning two (majors), yeah, it’s tough to do.
“I was in a position where I had a chance in a couple, and they are hard to win. I know Jack (Nicklaus) said the majors are the easiest to win, but you’ve got to put yourself in that position first.
“He’s obviously playing well, Rory, he’s shown that he can play well here at Augusta, and I know he’s just as ready as anyone else to go out and play well this week. He’s going to be tough to beat if he’s on top of his game. But I don’t think no-one’s going to lay down by any means. Everyone is here to play and wants to be in that position to slip on a green jacket on Sunday.”
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson is a regular practice partner of Fowler’s and the 2013 Open champion believes his fellow American has taken big strides in his game since joining him as a student of coach Butch Harmon.
“He’s playing really good golf,” said Mickelson. “Last year it seemed like he turned a corner with his game, something clicked. He had been working with Butch and made some changes, and you noticed it with, first of all, his distance off the tee, as well as his consistency with his long game. Also, his short irons became consistently flying the right distance,” Mickelson said.
“Those subtle changes really make him look like he’s an elite player, which we’ve always viewed him as, but his game is really reflecting that now. It’s just a matter of time, and then once it does happen, he’s going to have a lot more chances and win multiple (majors). But sometimes you’ve just got to be patient until it clicks.”
It almost clicked for Spieth at Augusta 12 months ago as the Masters debutant contended with Bubba Watson on the final Sunday only to fall away around the turn.
Now world number four, Spieth finished runner-up with Jonas Blixt and has arrived back in good form following his Valspar Championship win last month and two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour since, including last Sunday’s Shell Houston Open when he and Johnson Wagner lost out to JB Holmes in a play-off.
“Having been so close last year and have a little experience and riding some momentum, I hope to put myself in contention and use what I’ve learned since last year,” Spieth said.
Dustin Johnson, too, comes into the Masters in great form after some time out from the game last season spent battling some personal demons. What’s more he is buoyed by victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship after taming Doral with a driving masterclass that bodes well for this week after near-misses in the other majors.
“I’ve contended in all the other ones, just not here,” Johnson said. “This one sets up the best for me. It’s just a place where you’ve got to have everything working that week. You’ve got to be driving it well. You’ve got to hit your irons well. You’ve got to putt and chip well.
“I definitely feel the most confident in my game so far coming in this week than I have in years past, where I feel like everything’s working fairly good right now.”