SANDWICH, England -- In his inimitable British fashion, with that delightful lilt in his voice, veteran broadcaster Peter Alliss took a gander at what a certain, flashy American was wearing in a veritable gale on Saturday and all but giggled.
Rickie Fowler, who is certainly an adventurous sort when it comes to attire and stands out in gloomy England like a drop-dead blonde in a flashy convertible, was dressed in white from head to toe, deluge be darned.
Better yet, the outfit was festooned with red polka dots, prompting the beloved BBC announcer to intone, in faux seriousness, "It's the dreaded pox."
Actually, Fowler might just be the long-term cure for the malady that has infected the American troops of late at the majors, where a record five straight Grand Slam titles have been won by internationals.
Ten of the top 16 on the leaderboard are Americans, led by 20-somethings Dustin Johnson and Fowler, two of the country's best hopes for ending its major-championship drought -- despite a massive British deluge.
|British Open 2011|
The big surprise isn't that Dustin Johnson is in Sunday's final British Open pairing. It is that he is in contention at all. Read More >>
In the middle of the monsoon on Saturday at Royal St. George's, Tom Watson gave us all another lesson in links golf. Read More >>
Phil Mickelson hasn't handled the elements of links golf well over the years, but he has kept the damange to a minimum. Read >>
Despite playing through the worst weather of the day, Fowler matched Johnson for the day's best round with a 2-under 68 and moved into a tie for third, within three strokes of the lead at sloppy, soggy Royal St. Galoshes on Saturday, giving him his first real shot at a major championship title.
"I'd love for my first win to be a major," Fowler said.
Of course, at the moment, any title would suffice nicely.
Fowler, marked for stardom since before he was a breakout player on the 2010 Ryder Cup team, still hasn't cracked the winner's circle as a professional, but given what his playing partner for the first three rounds this week has done, he certainly knows it's possible.
Fowler, 22, played all three days with world No. 4 Rory McIlroy, who is five months younger and fresh off a victory at the 111th U.S. Open, which was obviously a topic of conversation as they toured the links over the first 54 holes.
"I hadn't seen him since that [week] and obviously that was an incredible week he put together there," Fowler said. "It definitely motivated me and gave me more confidence just because obviously, like you said, we're a similar age, similar part of our career.
"I'd say he's a step ahead of me -- he's got a couple wins and a major under his belt. But like I said, it definitely motivated me and it was fun to see what he did there."
Back in the States, it must have been entertaining to watch Fowler best McIlroy by six shots on Saturday, too, despite the fawning of the understandably partisan gallery of Mac backers.
Speaking of mac, that's a slang term for rainwear over here, and Fowler's ability to slog through the day's worst weather was the key to his rise into contention. While the 36-hole leaders played most of the day in decent conditions, Fowler teed off at midday and took a bath for two hours before the skies lightened up. Despite his age, he found a way to embrace the daunting drizzle.
|While others appear to be playing in oven mitts, Rickie Fowler simply uses the bulky gloves to keep his hands warm and dry. (Getty Images)|
"He was looking forward to it," said Joe Skovron, his caddie. "Looking forward to the challenge."
As most of the field was being washed into the English Channel, Fowler got off to a solid start and kept banging out pars until the skies brightened a bit. When he reached the back nine, the rain had subsided and he birdied three out of four starting at No. 13, leaping past half the world in the process.
"That was a great round of golf, considering those conditions," Skovron said.
Nobody disputed that notion. His housemate for the week, former Masters champion Zach Johnson, said Fowler might be mentally poised to finally get over the victory hump given his appetite for this style of play.
"Rickie loves this stuff over here," Johnson said. "He loves links golf, shaping shots, imagining things. Bad weather makes him perk up. He says, 'Let's take it on.'"
He was wide awake in his last trip to the U.K., when he birdied the last three holes of his singles match at the Ryder Cup to secure a crucial half-point, keeping alive the remote chances of an American victory. The clutch performance seemed a sure harbinger of things to come.
But for all the fireworks that his performance promised, the wins haven't followed. He has finished second three times in his two seasons on tour, and two weeks ago, he held a share of the 54-hole lead at the AT&T National. Fowler stumbled early, shot 74 on Sunday and fell out of contention.
On U.K. soil, he seems a different character. After opening his first British Open appearance last summer with a 79, he has reeled off six straight rounds of par or better at the world's oldest major.
Only two other players, leader Darren Clarke and Johnson, have signed for three rounds of par or better this week at Royal St. George's. Fowler, as odd as it sounds for a kid from sunny Southern California, seems right in his element on the game's most unpredictable major-championship layouts.
"He's such a natural player and he's got a lot of feel, so he controls his ball flight very well," McIlroy said. "He's got a great short game, he gets it up and down when he needs to, holes good putts at the right times.
"A 68 out there in those conditions was very impressive."
Similar to Johnson, with whom Fowler teamed on Tuesday for a weekly money match against Phil Mickelson and Jeff Overton, opportunity again knocks. Johnson on Sunday will play in the final group for the third time in the past six majors. Fowler would like to win something, period.
"I think that, all those experiences," Skovron said, "we'll be able to draw on them tomorrow."
If not, another haymaker to Fowler, not to mention the noggin of American golf, might be looming. Those are the kind of polka dots nobody wants to see.