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Rickie Fowler has come a long way from the perfectly coiffed teenager who first graced Minnesota's golf grounds in the 2006 U.S. Amateur. He has carved out a respectable career in the decade and a half since, becoming a fan favorite on the PGA Tour with five wins in his pocket. At age 32 he's already been a member of four U.S. Ryder Cup teams, including the winning side at Hazeltine National in 2016 as a captain's pick.
But time is running out for Fowler to keep a career-long streak intact. Heading into this week's 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities, Fowler is 124th in the FedEx Cup points standings. The top 125 qualify for the end-of-year playoffs, which begin in four weeks. Fowler has qualified every year since his first full season on tour in 2010.
"All I can go focus on is go play golf and play well here this week," Fowler said. "We know what we need to do; make birdies and that's all we can control."
He does enter Thursday's opening round in Blaine with some momentum carried over the Atlantic from last week's British Open.
Well behind the leaders, Fowler teed off in Sunday's third group out at Royal St. George's. He shook off an early bogey to card five birdies and an eagle for a superb 65 and perhaps the kick in the side he needs to stay inside the FedEx top 125.
"I know I'm close, it's just not all coming together just yet," Fowler said. "Everyone's been through some sort of ups and downs. It's how golf goes, it's how life goes. Sometimes it's one putt, one swing."
Fowler prepared for his first-ever stop at the 3M Open by playing all 18 holes Tuesday, then on Wednesday a nine-hole pro-am round with a group that included NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.
"I can't wait to see Chuck slop it around," Fowler quipped to the dozens of fans who crowded the first tee shortly after noon. Barkley then promptly deposited his tee ball into a backyard well right of the No. 1 fairway.
Barkley, though, held his own and outdrove Fowler on the second hole.
"We had a great time," Fowler said. "[But] no side bets."
Chuck on the Bucks
Barkley played four seasons in Phoenix and led the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals against Michael Jordan's Bulls. Still an Arizona resident, he was understandably disappointed with this year's NBA Finals result. But Barkley has a message for basketball fans: Get used to the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo ruling the roost.
"They got a chance, man," Barkley said when asked if this championship was the start of a Bucks dynasty. "I'm happy for Giannis. If you can't root for that kid, there's something wrong with you.
"That was a fun night. Not so much for my Suns, but it was great for the Midwest."
Don't I know you?
Former Gophers golfer Angus Flanagan is paired with Oklahoman Austin Eckroat in the first two rounds. They faced each other in Saturday singles at the Walker Cup in May, with Eckroat winning 1-up at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
"I know him very well," said Flanagan, who is playing the 3M Open on a sponsor's exemption for the second consecutive summer. "I'll have a great time with him."
Flanagan shot 73-73 last year and missed the cut.
"I definitely feel better prepared," he said. "This time last year, I was very, very nervous. I've just got to go out there and think it's just golf."
Flanagan also played in the Genesis Open in Los Angeles in February.