Rickie Fowler not listening to noise

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was only natural that Rickie Fowler would garner some inspiration from his front-row seat to history. On the course during the Masters playoff to support a friend, Fowler witnessed Bubba Watson's great shot from the trees, the roars of adulation, the winning tap-in putt.

Along with fellow tour players Aaron Baddeley and Ben Crane, Fowler could only watch in awe.

"I might have been more nervous than he was there," Fowler said.

The key, however, was taking something positive from the proceedings that might help Fowler in his own pursuit of tournament victories.

"It was a lot of fun to be there," Fowler said Thursday at Quail Hollow, where he shot a first-round 66 to sit a shot behind Round 1 leaders Webb Simpson, Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore. "Obviously being one of my best buddies, probably my best friend out here, and having Ben and Badds there as well, getting to see the moments from outside the ropes and see what was going on coming down the stretch, I definitely took a lot away from it, kind of more the feeling that I want to be in that position."

Fowler is just 23, one of the game's supposed up-and-coming stars. But now in his third full year on the PGA Tour, he doesn't get in that position enough, really. This year, he has two top-10s in 11 starts but has barely contended.

If he is frustrated, Fowler hardly shows it. He goes about his business with a good attitude and figures that the hard work and immense skills he possesses will eventually pay off with his first PGA Tour victory.

"Look at [Jason] Dufner last week," Fowler said of the player who got his first victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. "Obviously he's been very close a number of times. Everything kind of has to fall into place. I feel like unless you go out and have four great rounds and kind of win by more than three or four shots, like I did in Korea, you're going to have to get some good bounces or get lucky at some point to get the first win or multiple wins.

"It's tough to put 72 holes of great golf together. Just waiting for that time to come, keep playing well. The last couple of weeks I've been hitting the ball well and putting myself in position. I wouldn't be surprised if a win is just around the corner, and once it does, hopefully the doors open and we'll go from there."

Fowler's Korea reference was to his first professional victory last fall at the Kolon Korea Open, a tournament on the One Asia Tour where he beat the likes of Rory McIlroy and Y.E. Yang. It wasn't on a major tour, but it was a good victory.

But there figured to be more by now. After leaving Oklahoma State in 2009, Fowler lost in a playoff and posted another top-10 to nearly earn his PGA Tour card without having to go to Q-school. In 2010, he had two runner-up finishes and a third, was picked for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and pulled off one of the great rallies during singles -- he birdied the final four holes -- to gain a tie with Italy's Edoardo Molinari.

All of that helped him earn PGA Tour rookie of the year honors in 2010, but he has contended sparingly since. He was second last year at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but finished several shots behind Adam Scott. He has three other top-10s, but nothing in the top 3.

The guy with the flashy clothes and numerous endorsements is simply lacking the hardware.

"It's definitely been a slow year," Fowler said. "I haven't been hitting the ball as close as I would like to. It's getting there, though. I've felt like I'm making some really good swings the past few weeks, so hopefully I'm turning a corner, can get into contention and start having some fun and start focusing on that first win.

"I really had three main goals coming into this year. First win, making it to the Tour Championship, and making the Ryder Cup. Still focusing on those and have some fun."

Fowler got off to a good start at the Wells Fargo on goal No. 1, making an eagle and four birdies to share a tie for fourth place with D.A. Points, John Senden, Brian Davis and Patrick Reed at 6 under.

Earning that first win would help much with the latter two. Ranked 39th in the world, Fowler has made nine cuts in 11 starts and is 53rd in FedEx Cup points. But he is just 25th in Ryder Cup points, with the top eight automatically qualifying.

"I feel that I'm good enough to win," he said. "With the amount of people expecting or thinking that I can win is a compliment. It's my main goal for this year. I'm not too worried about the talk that goes on about when my first win is coming, but it's my main goal and that's what I'm focused on."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.