Rickie Fowler checks the yardage while playing No. 18 on Thursday during… (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images )
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rickie Fowler and the Masters clash. Let us count the ways.
First, there is the color thing. Masters green has a pureness that presents a cooling combination of grass and lime. Fowler green, a shirt-and-pants outfit he wore during the first round here Thursday, is a jarring tone of faded emerald overdosed in yellow.
Reports that headache pills were handed out in his gallery proved to be unfounded.
Then, there is Masters golf and Fowler golf.
The Masters is best handled, and usually won, by those who adhere to the cliches. Minimize the mistakes. Position the ball carefully. Par is a good score on most holes. When Zach Johnson won here in 2007 by refusing to go for the greens in two on the par-fives, he was widely celebrated for wise strategy.
No such plaudits would be likely for Fowler's round Thursday.
In a 68 that left him within two shots of the lead, Fowler had two sixes on his card, both double bogeys, plus six birdies and an eagle. The Masters handbook would frown on that approach. On the 10th hole, he hit his second shot into a bush, took a drop, hit into a trap and needed to make a 15-footer for six.
"A really good six, if there is such a thing," Fowler said.
On the next hole, a par-four, 505-yard thumbscrew, with trees along the driving lane to the right and a pond to the left of the green, Fowler sank an 18-footer for birdie.
On No. 17, an equally difficult par four with a tree that protrudes into the fairway and was named after President Eisenhower because he hit it so often he wanted it cut down, Fowler drove into the pine straw and then recovered for another birdie. Playing partner Jason Day called Fowler's approach shot there "all-world."
In general, Fowler is not the typical touring golfer. He didn't grow up using grandpa's country club membership, nor did he walk the fairways of college golf with a Clemson logo on his shirt. He is from Murrieta, his dad was a dirt bike champion who actually won the 1986 Baja 1,000, and the press book paraphrases Fowler as saying his biggest thrill outside of golf "is being in the air on his bike."
Somehow, one cannot picture Bobby Jones "in the air on his bike."
Then, there are the Golf Boys.
That is a musical group that makes YouTube videos. Its genre is weird country rap, its purpose is to raise money for charity, and its members are PGA golfers Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson and Fowler. In the most recent offering, Fowler kisses a bird.
Somehow, one cannot picture Bobby Jones kissing a bird.
But then, times and traditions change. Were Fowler to win here, it would make it two in a row for the Golf Boys. The Masters may then have to toss out the green jacket and award a tattoo. Or, for Fowler, a Harley.
All that being said, Fowler is an outstanding golfer who has been on the verge of a breakthrough for some time. He has been on the tour only since 2008 and has already won $9.5 million. He won his first and only PGA Tour title in 2012, the Wells Fargo Championship, and revealed Thursday that he has been playing with pain medication for a bad back for the last eight months.
"I didn't want to make a big deal of it," said Fowler, who recently was able to stop taking the medicine. "I was never really a person to make excuses."
Nor is he a person hesitant to embrace the colorful, as his daily screaming hues attest. Asked if he would sum up his round Thursday in motocross parlance, he didn't even need to pause for thought.
"I would have gone down pretty hard on the first corner and probably been out of the race," he said. "Could have been a pileup … I would have been heading back to the pits."
As all stories Thursday about the Masters must say, it is early. Lots of golf to play. Lots of water still to flow under the bridges at Rae's Creek before the final nine holes Sunday, where, as legendary writer Dan Jenkins once penned, "The Masters begins."
But with Fowler in contention, CBS and the Masters must start to consider a potential problem. On Sundays, Fowler honors his alma mater, Oklahoma State, by wearing its color, a bright orange. If you slip a green jacket over OSU orange, with TV cameras on and millions watching, public health may be compromised.
Somehow, one can picture Bobby Jones shading his eyes.