SHANGHAI – The HSBC Champions would seem an odd place for Rickie Fowler to start another PGA Tour season. The title would suggest this World Golf Championship is for winners, and that's about the one thing Fowler hasn't been able to get done lately.
He's done enough to ease the disappointment.
Fowler listed four main goals for the year and ticked off all but one of them.
He wanted to qualify for the Ryder Cup team and finished at No. 2 in the standings. He wanted to make it all the way through the FedEx Cup playoffs, and he reached the Tour Championship for the second time. He wanted to contend in all the majors, and all he did was join Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to finish in the top five at all four of them.
The difference is that Nicklaus and Woods won a major. That leads to the last item on Fowler's wish list last year.
He didn't win.
"It's tough, because I really wanted to win," Fowler said. "But the goals going into the year, I took care of everything except for getting the win."
Fowler has only two victories since he turned pro in the fall of 2009. He won the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012, and he won the Korea Open. Both times, Rory McIlroy was the runner-up. His closest call this year was in the PGA Championship, when Fowler was among four players who had at least a share of the lead on the back nine at Valhalla. He had a long eagle attempt on the 18th hole in the dark to force a playoff and wound up three-putting for par.
Fowler is not one to panic, and it's easy to point at last year as a big leap in the right direction.
And he was quick to look at the bright side.
"If I would have won, it would have been almost too perfect knocking off all my goals," he said with a smile. "So it gives me something to build on, and hopefully I can have a season in the near future where I check off all the boxes. This year, I just left one unchecked."
The start to this year is almost like a false front.
The HSBC Champions starts Thursday at Sheshan International, the 10th edition of a tournament that began as a European Tour event and has evolved into what is commonly referred to as "Asia's major."
Given its spot on the golfing calendar, it's a mix of starting and finishing.
This is the marquee event in the PGA Tour's start of its wraparound season. It also is the second of four events in the "Final Series" that wrap up the European Tour season.
Justin Rose is playing is second consecutive event. Fowler, meanwhile, last hit a meaningful shot on the 14th hole at Gleneagles when he lost his singles match to McIlroy in the Ryder Cup. He has been home in Florida, taking a breather and taking care of some sponsor obligations. After the HSBC Champions, he won't play another PGA Tour event for nearly three months — unless he wins in Shanghai and gets into the winners-only Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.
"It's the first event of the year for me, which sounds weird since we're at the end of 2014," Fowler said.
The HSBC Champions altered its criteria a few years ago to include the top 50 in the world ranking. Fowler qualified this year as one of the leading five players available from the FedEx Cup standings (he finished at No. 9).
Even though it's a short start to a new season in the final two months of a long year, there is plenty of reason for optimism. He has been working with Butch Harmon for a little more than a year now, describing their work as making his swing more efficient and more complete.
He anticipated it taking some time, with a goal of building toward the Masters. That worked out well for him. He tied for fifth.
Now it's time for the next step.
"Coming into the season a little bit differently than I did last year," Fowler said. "Last year I was looking to kind of turn the corner, get things started, go and contend in majors — and did just that. So this year is a little different outlook, I would have to say after last year. I'm looking forward to building on my performances, and it's a great way to start here with a great field at the HSBC Champions."