- Rickie Fowler wins his first PGA Tour title in playoff at Wells Fargo Championship
- He beats Rory McIlroy and fellow American D.A. Points to $1.17 million prize
- McIlroy, who returns to world No. 1, won the tournament for his first PGA title in 2010
- Fowler wishes his friend Bubba Watson had been there to share the celebrations
When Rickie Fowler was named the PGA Tour's rookie of the year in 2010, the groundswell of opinion outside the U.S. was that the award should have gone to another young golfing prodigy -- Rory McIlroy.
While the Northern Irishman went on to win his first major title in 2011, and climbed to the top of the world rankings this year, Fowler had been hanging on the cusp of his own breakthrough.
Until Sunday, that is, when the 23-year-old claimed his first PGA Tour title at the same Quail Hollow venue where McIlroy made his mark two years ago with a stunning final-round 62 that secured his maiden U.S. victory.
Clad in his trademark bright orange outfit, his shock of hair barely contained by his hat, and a mustache nestling above his top lip that any 1970s detective would be proud of, Fowler produced his own moment of magic to beat McIlroy and fellow American D.A. Points in a playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship.
His stunning wedge shot to within four feet of the hole at the tricky 18th, which had given up only four birdies all day, earned him the $1.17 million first prize and lifted him to 15th in the FedEx Cup standings and 24th in the world rankings.
"For Rickie to go out and play that hole the way he did, he deserved to win," said McIlroy, who returned to world No. 1 above Englishman Luke Donald after taking home $572,000 in consolation.
"He probably has gone through a little bit of sort of scrutiny and a lot of pressure trying to get that first win, but now that win is out of the way. Hopefully that'll ease the pressure a little bit."
Fowler, who was the world's top amateur for 36 weeks, lost a playoff in his second tournament as a professional and has been runner-up three times on the main U.S. tour.
"It's nice to kind of shut them up a little bit," he said on the PGA Tour website. "It's going to be kind of a relief. It's been a wait, but I'm definitely still young, and hopefully this opens the door to many more. But it's nice to be mentioned as a PGA Tour winner.
"It's still going to be almost like having zero when someone like Phil (Mickelson) is getting announced with 40 and I've got one. I've got some work to do."
When Fowler lines up at this week's prestigious Players Championship, he will again be playing without one of his closest golfing friends -- Masters champion Bubba Watson, who skipped Quail Hollow to be with his wife and newly-adopted son and has also decided to sit out golf's "fifth major."
Watson and Fowler make up half of golf's only boy band, the Golf Boys, along with Ben Crane and FedEx Cup leader Hunter Mahan.
"I'm bummed that Bubba wasn't around," said Fowler, who helped Watson celebrate after his Masters playoff victory in April.
"We weren't exactly inside the ropes but we had a front-row seat, and just to see how he handled himself, the shots he hit, just to feel the energy ... definitely being around there gave me the kind of want to win more."
It's not the first time Fowler has beaten McIlroy -- he did so by six shots in his only other professional win in a Korean event last year.
"Rory is the top-ranked young player right now, I'm probably the one that sticks out most with color," Fowler said. "Now I'm a PGA Tour winner, so I've got some credibility."
Fowler played in the 2010 Ryder Cup defeat against Europe, and Sunday's victory has lifted his hopes of playing in the U.S. team for this year's match in Medinah, Illinois.
Meanwhile, another player who made his Ryder Cup debut two years ago, Francesco Molinari, boosted his chance of a second appearance in September by winning the European Tour's Spanish Open on Sunday.
The Italian, whose brother Edoardo halved with Fowler in singles play at Celtic Manor in 2010, moved up to 10th place on the European Ryder Cup standings after winning by three shots in Seville.
The 29-year-old took home €333,330 ($435,000) after clinching his first title in 18 months, and climbed to 29th in the world rankings.