For all his endorsements and marketing prowess, Fowler was starting to hear whispers about when he was going to win. What carried him along was patience and impeccable manners, which have made him a favorite among his peers.
Making this win even sweeter was having his mother, Lynn, and girlfriend Alexandra Brown (daughter of PGA Tour winner Olin Browne) in the gallery.
"I'm over the top," his mother said, fighting back tears. "I'm relieved for him because this is an expectation from the people, the fans, the tournament staff directors. And now he can hopefully carry on and do the work that he likes to do."
On the back nine, it was clear this was a three-man race, and all had their shots at winning.
"I think it was just a matter of time before he won," McIlroy said. "It seems like this tournament produces first-time winners — Anthony Kim, myself, now Rickie. It's great to see. He probably has went through a little bit of scrutiny and a lot of pressure trying to get that first win. But now that win is out of the way. Hopefully, that will ease the pressure a little bit."
Fowler said he never felt the pressure of waiting 2 1/2 years for his first win. The longest wait might have been for his shot in the playoff to descend from the cloudy sky, so he could make sure it had enough to take the stream out of play.
"It was a little bit of a gamble," he said.
Fowler earned $1.17 million and best of all, achieved his primary goal of winning on the PGA Tour. That should help him reach his other marks this year, getting to the Tour Championship for the first time and perhaps getting another spot on the Ryder Cup team.
He was picked in 2010 — the first PGA Tour rookie ever selected by a captain — and showed his promise by winning the last four holes to earn a halve in his singles match. McIlroy is far more accomplished, with a major championship and a return to No. 1 in the world.
But as a generational shift in golf continues, this could be a rivalry worth watching.