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Rickie Fowler enters charity golf tournament as favorite in more than one way

Fowler’s presence headlines the 2010 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

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Steve Marcus

Rickie Fowler drives off the eighth tee during the Pro Am portion of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open golf tournament at TPC Summerlin Wednesday, October 20, 2010.

Rickie Fowler in Pro Am

Rickie Fowler poses for a photo with Lindsey Raible of Arkansas during the Pro Am portion of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open golf tournament at TPC Summerlin Wednesday, October 20, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Forget the notion that the annual Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas lacks in golfers with star power.

Rickie Fowler single-handedly proves that incorrect. As Fowler walked off the ninth green and into the clubhouse Wednesday after his Pro-Am round, a swarm of fans lined the course hoping to get an autograph or picture.

Fowler was a main attraction for everyone from middle-aged men to teenage girls. That’s the kind of attention the 21-year old rookie, who many think is already close to becoming one of the PGA Tour’s elite golfers, brings at every stop.

“I want to be the best player in the world,” Fowler said. “I have a long way to go and I have to start playing better and more consistent, but that’s where I’d like to be. Whether it’s five years or 10 years, we’ll have to see.”

Fowler tees off at 7:19 Thursday morning in Las Vegas’ annual PGA Tour stop at TPC Summerlin. Although he has never won a professional tournament, Fowler is the favorite this week.

The Las Vegas Hilton Superbook lists Fowler at 10-to-1 odds to win the event. Even the tournament host is stricken with Fowler fever.

“I think he’s cooler than Justin Bieber,” Timberlake said Tuesday during his annual press conference. “Did I throw the gauntlet down? Oh, whatever. I’m taking Rickie Fowler.”

Fowler made his professional debut at last year’s JT Shriners Open and had just moved to Las Vegas after spending two years at Oklahoma State University.

He finished seventh in the tournament and his PGA Tour career took off from there. He’s played in 26 events this year, making 18 cuts with six top 10 finishes and two second places.

“It’s special because I started here,” Fowler said. “It counts for a little bit extra. It’s all gone by very fast. When I look back at it, I’ve done a lot. It’s cool to look back and see how far we’ve come.”

Fowler said he thought he had a great chance to win in Las Vegas because of the way he’s played lately. He finished fourth last week in the Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif., and was in contention on Sunday.

Earlier this month, Fowler shined as the first PGA Tour rookie to ever play on the American team in the Ryder Cup. American captain Corey Pavin picked Fowler for the team and the youngster didn’t let him down.

Although the Europeans won the event, Fowler had a memorable round on the final day. He birdied the last four holes in a row to win his match and keep the Americans in contention.

“It was an honor to be on the team,” Fowler said. “To have that opportunity to be on the team and be put in that position where I could make own Ryder Cup memory on Monday in the singles match, it was special and something I will never forget.”

Fowler hopes this week brings similar memories. It would be far from unprecedented if a young sensation won his first championship here.

As a rookie in 1996, Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event in Las Vegas. The expectations surrounding Fowler are similar.

“I’ve built up some confidence and I’m ready for this week,” Fowler said. “I’m just trying to put myself in position to come out Sunday and win.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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