Tuesday morning, a smiling Rickie Fowler signed a short novel's worth of autographs for a sun-scorched cluster of fans behind Aronimink Golf Club's 18th green. Later, walking to the podium for the 2018 BMW Championship's initial news conference, he playfully tweaked a reporter's ear.
Fowler is loose. He's also healthy again and, because he sat out the first two FedEx Cup playoff events with an oblique injury, has a little more left in the tank than the 69 golfers he'll be competing against when play begins Thursday on the refurbished Donald Ross course in Newtown Square.
"I'm definitely a lot more rested and ready to go than most guys here," said Fowler. "It's a big stretch of the season that I wasn't planning to miss, but it could end up being a good thing with the stretch we have coming up – this week the Tour Championship, and the Ryder Cup right around the corner."
By missing last week's tournament, Fowler fell four spots in the FedEx Cup standings, from 22 to 26. He's likely too far back to contend for the $10 million winner's prize, and with only the top 30 advancing to the Tour Championship, he'll need to finish high on the leaderboard at a course he's played twice.
As a 21-year-old in the 2010 AT&T at Aronimink, he missed the cut. A year later, Fowler shot a 64 on Saturday to tie for the lead before a final-round 74 left him tied for 13th.
"There's no reason we can't play well here this week," he said. "I've played well here in the past."
Fowler partially tore his right oblique a month ago while hitting a six-iron at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. A week later, playing with significant discomfort, he finished 12th at the PGA.
During the two-week respite that followed, he was treated with lasers, ice and heat by a spinal neurosurgeon in Florida. He played four practice rounds last week and said he could have played in Boston but instead heeded the advice of Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk.
"He sent me something in a text that definitely helped my decision with not playing," Fowler said. "It was something he heard from Davis [Love]. He said, `No one has ever said they came back from an injury too late.'
"Ultimately, we didn't want to have the oblique fully torn," he said. "I played Wednesday through Sunday to try to simulate playing 72 holes … and everything felt good."
Fowler played Aronimink's back nine Tuesday, and said his first impression of the refurbished course was that the winner will have to handle its three long par-3s – the 242-yard eighth, 221-yard 14th and 229-yard 17th.
"I'll take the middle of the green on all of them for four days," said Fowler, who will tee off at 8:10 in Wednesday's pro-am.
On 14, he hit four-iron to just that spot. But another four-iron on 17 came up short.