RICKIE Fowler continues to make his case for extending the 'Big Three' discussion to 'Big Four' alongside Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, the American notching his second European Tour win in Abu Dhabi overnight and moving to fourth in the world rankings.
Fowler was sublime in posting a one shot victory in the desert, overcoming two of the 'Big Three' along the way in the form of World Numbers One and Three, Spieth and McIlroy.
The 27-year-old fired a final round 69 in difficult conditions on Sunday to finish at 16-under, one ahead of Belgium's Thomas Pieters and two clear of McIlroy and World Number Five Henrik Stenson. Spieth shared fifth a further three strokes back.
Fowler, who also won last year's Players' Championship, Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank Championship, has now moved to fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings and makes no secret of the fact he wants to be considered among golf's elite.
“I'd like to jump in and be a part of that crew and see if we can continue to win some majors, if I can jump in there,” Fowler said when asked about his standing in the game.
“I think I mentioned through the summer at some point, I said I was sneaky fourth. So we've got to take care of a major and then maybe I can join the crew.
“The goal right now with where my game's at, the best it's been this early in the season in my career, I'm working on getting ready for Augusta. And I'd like to have my shot at getting the green jacket there.”
Based on his play in the desert Fowler will be a legitimate contender come April.
While his final round wasn't perfect it showed plenty of tenacity and flair, Fowler overcoming a clumsy double bogey at the par-3 7th with a brilliant eagle at the par-5 next.
He also chipped in for birdie at the 17th to take a two shot lead up the final hole, the hole out all but sealing victory.
“It's fun to be in contention in the situations where you need to pull off a shot and being able to do it, you get such an adrenaline rush and such a boost from it, and it's so rewarding,” he said of the thrilling finish.
“I felt really comfortable in some of those situations, and 17, it was a very straightforward chip, one that you're trying to make.
“But to do it in the situation and having to do it, that's what makes it so much more rewarding.”
For McIlroy, who has been runner-up four times in Abu Dhabi without winning, it was a week of what might have been.
While he made a brilliant eagle at the 72nd hole he was too far back by that point to be a genuine threat and blamed a poor 18 hole stretch mid-tournament for another close call.
“I guess what might have been, in a way,” he said of his four rounds.
“I played a very, very average 18 holes. Just sort of I guess the back nine of the second round and the front nine of the third round – or the back nine of the second -- front nine -- yeah, I guess whatever it was, there was an 18-hole stretch where I played maybe 1-over par.
“In a tournament like this, you just can't do that. So I sort of gave myself a lot of work to do going into the last 18 holes, and yeah, just didn't quite have it today.
“68 I think is the best I could have done out there with the places I hit it. I don't think I hit a shot off the fairway until the ninth hole this afternoon, so if you're putting yourself out of position like that, it's going to be very hard to score around here.”
Spieth, too, struggled in Abu Dhabi after opening his 2016 with a runaway victory at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
A final round 68 lifted him into the top five but he was never a serious threat in the final round having posted his first over-par score in 22 rounds the previous day.
“We were off this week,” he said after his final round. “I didn't make anything. I didn't give myself a lot of chances the first couple rounds.
“I didn't get in a rhythm, and when I did have chances, they just wouldn't go. Just a little off on the read or the speed, one of the two.
“Sometimes that happens during a week, and we kind of grinded out 8-under on the weekend in what really could have been something special but it also could have been worse.
“Kept our head in it there the back nine, really finished 4-under on the last seven holes to carry some momentum going forward off of a week that I could have just bagged it in.”
Wade Ormsby finished best of the three Australians to make the cut, his final round 69 seeing him jump 20 players to finish T26.
Brett Rumford was next best at T35 while Scott Hend fired his best round of the week, a 2-under-70, to move up 11 places to T54.
WATCH: Henrik Stenson Swing thoughts
ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL LEADERBOARD
|T5||BYEONG HUN AN||-11|
|T26||WADE ORMSBY (AUS)||-6|
|T35||BRETT RUMFORD (AUS)||-5|
|T54||SCOTT HEND (AUS)||-2|
|MC||ANDREW DODT (AUS)|
|MC||MARCUS FRASER (AUS)|
|MC||NATHAN HOLMAN (AUS)|
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