Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 pm30 5:51pm

Rickie Fowler: Poor Masters showing was a hiccup

Rickie Fowler was riding high before Augusta National took him down a notch early this month.

Fowler, No. 5 in the World Golf Rankings, was one of the pre-tournament favorites in the Masters prior to shooting 80-73–153 to miss the cut by three strokes in the first major of the year.

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Don’t expect it to keep him down.

“Game is good,” Fowler, who returns this week for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, told reporters recently on media day for the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, where he will defend his title in two weeks. “Really the only hiccup was … at the Masters, I made a couple mental mistakes, which I definitely didn’t plan on, didn’t want to go through that week like that.

“But yeah, I’ve played very consistent. I’ve had some good finishes. I’ve had chances to win. I got the win in Abu Dhabi (on the European Tour) early in the year. So no, it’s definitely been the fastest start to the year, my best start that I’ve had so far.”

Fowler, who claimed three victories in a career season in 2015, hasn’t won in 10 starts, but he does have five results in the top 10 and seven in the top 25.

The 27-year-old Californian lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, was solo fifth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, tied for sixth in the Honda Classic, tied for eighth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and tied for 10th in the Shell Houston Open.

Of the Masters, Fowler said: “I didn’t play my best. I hit some good shots, made some good swings, but not what I expected to have, that’s for sure. Tough. Golf’s not an easy game. No, obviously, golf’s tough, it is a fine line, especially at (Augusta).”

Since a poll of PGA Tour players by Sports Illustrated identified Fowler and England’s Ian Poulter as the most overrated players on the circuit, Fowler is enjoying the last laugh.

“I think it may have been a big storyline media-wise or outside, but it was something that was pretty laughable from the players’ side looking in, especially on mine,” said Fowler, who apparently was considered all style and no substance because of his eclectic wardrobe.

“I think I was ranked 10th in the world at the time. Yeah, they really nailed that poll. I mean, winning was — came at a nice time. Looking back, it didn’t really mean anything or matter to me what the poll said. Like I said, it was kind of funny.”

Fowler still is still having fun.

Last week, he went on vacation in the Bahamas with buddies Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman for what they called “Spring Break 2016.”

The foursome kept their fans up to date with a series of pictures on Snapchat showing them playing shirtless golf in swimsuits, lounging on the beach, riding around the ocean in a powerboat and hanging at an outdoor lounge at the resort where they were staying.

Spieth, of course, has his own Masters nightmare to forget, having blown a four-stroke lead on the back nine in the final round.

Rory McIlroy also was invited, but he had a trip to Barbados already planned with his fiancee, Erica Stoll, when he got the invitation from Fowler.

After seeing the pictures online, McIlroy tweeted: “After seeing all these snapchats over the last few days… Maybe I should have taken @RickieFowler up on the invite.”

Now, it is back to business for Fowler.

“I would definitely think that I’m a better player (than he was last year), yeah, and I’ve played better at the start of the year than I have through my whole career,” said Fowler, who also will defend his titles in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank Championship this year.

“Last year was definitely a step in the right direction for me, after good finishes in 2014 in the majors (top five in all four). It really all started with the Players and getting the win there and getting my momentum and confidence built up for the summer and getting the win at Deutsche Bank, Scottish Open, as well.

“It’s been a fun ride since then.”

Despite that detour at Augusta.

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