Golf

Heritage has been good for first-time PGA Tour winners

Rickie Fowler leads this year's list of breakthrough candidates

April 20, 2011 

Rickie Fowler is looking for his first PGA Tour win this week at Harbour Town Golf Links.

SARAH WELLIVER -- THE ISLAND PACKET

Surreal. Crazy. Beyond his wildest dreams. That's how Brendan Steele describes the sensation of earning his first PGA Tour victory last week at the Valero Texas Open, an occasion 10 players have experienced at the Heritage over the years, including three since 2005.

And with youth reigning on the PGA Tour recently -- players in their 20s have won five of the past six events -- it's worth wondering whether the trend will continue this week at Harbour Town Golf Links.

The youth movement hasn't happened by accident. With more young golfers playing on competitive junior tours and working their way up to prestigious amateur events, they hit the professional tours with a big head start on the learning curve.

"I think guys are just better younger," said second-year pro Cameron Tringale, who was in the final group with Steele and tied for fifth in San Antonio. "They get coaching sooner and they take care of their bodies sooner, so they're more ready when they get out here."

Tringale is one of many on the list of young players who seem poised to win on the PGA Tour, but that list almost certainly begins with Rickie Fowler, who had two runner-up finishes and seven top-10s last season, his first full season on the PGA Tour.

"He's got plenty of game," Steele said of Fowler. "He's still only 22 years old, and everybody kind of gives him a hard time for not winning, but the guy made almost three million bucks on the tour, so I think he's got a lot of game."

Fowler thinks that surreal, crazy moment Steele experienced Sunday is right around the corner for him, and he thinks Harbour Town -- where he made his first PGA Tour start in 2008 and tied for eighth last year -- could be the setting.

"It's definitely a place that I can see myself playing well at," Fowler said. "I don't think there's any reason why I can't win."

Fostering that belief is part of the key to winning for young players, Steele said, noting he gained the confidence he could compete at the highest level after winning the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island last October.

With numerous collegiate and amateur wins under his belt, including the 2007 Players Amateur at Belfair Golf Club, Fowler knows he's ready to win -- but he also knows how many good young players he'll have to beat to do it.

"Guys are coming out with a little more experience, and they're a little more ready to just play instead of coming out and kind of getting a glimpse of the PGA Tour," Fowler said. "They're ready to go out and contend."

POISED TO BREAK THROUGH

Here's a look at five players who could earn their first PGA Tour win this week at Harbour Town Golf Links:

1. Rickie Fowler -- It's easy to forget Fowler hasn't won already, because he's one of the biggest stars on the tour and came close with two runner-up finishes last year. He tied for eighth here last year and has the game to get it done.

2. Steve Marino -- He's no longer part of the 20-something crew at age 31, but Marino is widely considered one of the best players without a PGA Tour win. He has two runner-up finishes this year and tied for 13th here last year after closing with rounds of 67 and 68.

3. Ricky Barnes -- Another player who feels like he's already won because he always seems to be around the lead in the majors. He tied for fifth in his first start here last year and has the kind of game that plays well at Harbour Town.

4. Spencer Levin -- He lost in a playoff at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico (where 2009 Heritage champion Brian Gay is a past champion) and has tied for 13th and tied for 14th in two starts here.

5. Webb Simpson -- He was second at the Transitions Championship (where Jim Furyk won a month before winning the Heritage last year) and he's from the South, which tends to be an advantage here. After missing the cut in his first Heritage start, he tied for 14th last year.

First-time winners at the Heritage

Hale Irwin (1971)

Graham Marsh (1977)

Doug Tewell (1980)

Nick Faldo (1984)

Davis Love III (1987)

Glen Day (1999)

Jose Coceres (2001)

Peter Lonard (2005)

Aaron Baddeley (2006)

Boo Weekley (2007)

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