Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy set to dominate
The world of golf had been waiting for this. After more than two years of eager anticipation, the era of Rickie and Rory finally dawned at Quail Hollow.
Previous generations had Jack and Arnie, while there may be a few seasons left in Tiger and Phil — if Woods ever manages to get his game back.
Yet golf can look forward to at least 15 years of adventure from world No 1 McIlroy and his fellow 23-year-old Fowler, judging by Sunday's riveting climax to the Wells Fargo Championship.
How thrilling to see Fowler play swashbuckling, all-or-nothing golf to go with his Errol Flynn moustache and clinch his maiden victory on the PGA Tour.
For the first time in America, Fowler's golf outshone the garish orange he wears each Sunday on Tour in homage to his old 'school', Oklahoma State.
Dare we suggest that these two talented young men may be the the future of golf?
Through his gift, McIlroy has given every golfer on this island a front-row seat for what will almost certainly become one of the greatest and most enduring rivalries in sport.
We Irish can look forward with relish to many more thrilling nights like last Sunday, maybe even next weekend at The Players Championship, should McIlroy, a comprehensively better golfer now than before, manage to get a grip on Sawgrass at the third bite.
For sure, Fowler took the honours at Quail Hollow, beating fellow American DA Points and McIlroy on the first tie hole with the shot of his life, hitting a gap wedge to within four feet, three inches off a sucker Sunday pin for an unforgettable birdie.
It was the seventh time in a season of stunning Sunday climaxes that a tournament had gone to extra holes. All three had played fantastic tee shots into the fairway but, he who dared, won.
Fowler's approach needed to be perfectly struck or his ball would have ended up in the stream running across the front left of the green.
It was perfect and McIlroy and Points both made stout, two-putt pars before the Californian applied the coup de grace.
Bubba Watson was so moved by Sunday's finish, he flashed out a series of excited tweets.
“A new No 1 in Rory McIlroy and a new American, Rickie Fowler, heading up the world rankings — golf is growing around the world!” he wrote as the play-off reached its climax, adding: “Wow! Congrats Rickie Fowler. Golf's better than ever.”
Watson and Fowler are best mates. They even collaborated with Ben Crane and Hunter Mahan to form 'The Golf Boys' and record a pop video titled 'Oh-Oh-Oh', which raised money for charity.
Masters champion Watson has taken a couple of weeks off to be at home with his newly adopted son Caleb.
Fowler, who said he had found following his friend to victory at Augusta National last month “inspiring,” admitted it had been “a bummer” that Bubba wasn't at Quail Hollow.
Yet one didn't have to be a close friend of Fowler to be enthused by Sunday's climax.
Graeme McDowell, who is McIlroy's best pal in golf, gave a running commentary on the final stages of the tournament on Twitter.
“Well done Rickie Fowler long overdue first PGA Tour win — #talent,” the Portrush man tweeted. “That was inspirational. I'm off to the range to practice!”
Seeing exciting young players like Fowler win a PGA Tour event (not to mention $1.17m) in such thrilling fashion should inspire many to take up clubs and play.
McIlroy eased back to the top of the world on the strength of his tie for second ($572,000). “That's nice,” he said. “It's a little consolation, though I'd rather win.”
As for Fowler's performance, he enthused: “It was just a matter of time before he won. He probably went through a little bit of scrutiny, a lot of pressure trying to get that first win, but now it's out of the way, hopefully it'll ease the pressure a little bit.
“It's great to see, especially the way he played that play-off hole. He played to win. He deserved it after that birdie.”