Jordan Spieth, of course, came close to winning on his first appearance here when he finished second in 2014. Fleetwood was a spectator on that occasion, hoping the visit would help get him ready for the following year only to miss out on a coveted invitation by a spot. He then wasn’t really in with a sniff 12 months ago as his game hit a dramatic downward spiral.
Fleetwood, in fact, was looking more towards next year to finally make it here when he embarked on his 2017 campaign, but his presence in the new media centre at Augusta National was an indication of how fortunues have changed for the long-haired Lancastrian in a short space of time.
Winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, beating Dustin Johnson into second place, sparked the turnaround for Fleetwood, who gave a glimpse of his potential when claiming the 2009 Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship at Murcar Links before returning to the home of golf to record his maiden European Tour victory in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles four years later.
He then finished second to world No 1 Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship early last month, cementing his position as this season’s Race to Dubai leader in the process.
Yes, of course, it is a tough ask for either Fleetwood or young Spaniard Jon Rahm to emulate Zoeller. You’ve got to be in it to win it, though, and that will certainly do nicely for starters as far as the Englishman is concerned.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘I expect to win’. But you never know,” he said. “You’ve just got to get your head down. It (winning) would be nice and there are a lot of shots I feel comfortable with on the course. I’ve not got any experience of missing it in certain spots or knowing what is a horrendous chip shot or knowing that you can’t go there. That’s what a first‑timer is missing, but I’ll try my hardest to get as much as I can.
“I managed to get a few holes with Mark O’Meara yesterday. Billy Foster and Lee Westwood have also helped me in trying to get as much information as I can. Hopefully I can make a good showing of myself. Stranger things have happened. I’ve got no massive expectations. It is great to be here and hopefully there will be a lot more.”
Strange though it may sound given that he is just two years older than Fleetwood at 28, Rickie Fowler is a Masters veteran by comparison. This is the Californian’s seventh successive Augusta appearance, having enjoyed the buzz of getting in the mix in both 2014 and 2015 before tasting the bitter disappointment of a first missed cut 12 months ago. Having received a timely confidence boost by winning the Honda Classic in the build-up to this week, Fowler is feeling quietly confident that he is ready to re-produce the sparkling form with which he made his presence felt in all four majors in 2014.
“It’s been a nice start to the year,” admitted the 2015 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open champion. “I’m making a lot of birdies right now, and that bodes well around this golf course. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have to settle for bogeys here and there and, in the past couple of tournaments, I have allowed myself to overcome mistakes and bogeys. Having a lot of offence is something that I want to feed off of and, if I can continue to make a lot of birdies, maybe a couple eagles in there as well, that’s going to be very good around here.
“Last year was tough. I just made some dumb mistakes that easily could have been avoided. I know this golf course too well now to really make those mistakes. I really kind of had to kick myself in the butt because I should have been playing on the weekend even with making a couple mistakes. I just happened to kind of compound them and take myself out from being able to have a chance to go into the weekend and play well. It’s kind of live and learn. Hopefully that’s something that doesn’t happen again.”
Asked to rate his career accomplishments so far, Fowler added: “I would say under. But I definitely wouldn’t be disappointed about the career I’ve had, especially with where I’m at right now, and where I feel like the game is going and where it can go. I’m ready for a fun ride.”