By Tim Dahlberhg, AP Sports Columnist
SANDWICH, England (AP) -- He'll come out in his Sunday best, decked out in orange from head to toe. That's what Rickie Fowler does, though so far his fashion has been better than his golf when it really counts.
On Saturday, his outfit was more muted, though Fowler still stuck out amid the grayness as hard, sideways rain led to an early exit for some steely British golf fans. The ones who stayed surely appreciated Fowler more for the way he fought through the conditions to post a dazzling 68 than his cream-colored rainsuit with pink polka dots.
It was good enough to beat playing partner Rory McIlroy by six strokes in a friendly rivalry of 22-year-old stars to be. Good enough, too, to get Fowler the next-to-last tee time Sunday, when the Open Championship will be decided.
That's where it gets a bit tricky. Because, up until now, it's been more form than substance for Fowler.
He's not been able to close a show yet. And now he's asking himself to do it coming from behind at a major championship.
Tiger Woods always won in red. Can Fowler do it in orange?
"I'd love for my first win to be a major," Fowler said. "And I'd love for it to be here. "
Watch Fowler make his way around a golf course and it's easy to see he doesn't lack confidence. Not in his choice of clothes, and certainly not in his game.
Listen to him talk, though, and you begin to get an idea that there's something very real behind the hype that prematurely anointed him the next great American player when he came out on the PGA Tour.
Get past the gaudy outfits, and the kid's got game.
"He's such a natural player and he's got such good feel," McIlroy said after their round. "A 68 out there in those conditions is very impressive."
The few fans who hadn't fled the wet grandstands surrounding the 18th green certainly thought so, cheering Fowler as he finished a round played in brutal conditions. One man chanted "USA, USA," giving it up quickly after he realized the English crowd wasn't going to join in.
The round got Fowler to 2 under and a tie for third, just three shots behind leader Darren Clarke. The position is more impressive when you consider Fowler got the worst part of the draw every day when it came to the weather conditions.
So far, though, the only time Fowler has finished anything was in the Ryder Cup last year when he birdied the last four holes to get a singles draw with Edoardo Molinari. For the year his final-round scoring average is a fat 71.8, 132nd on the PGA Tour. That includes the AT&T National earlier this month when he entered the final round tied for the lead only to shoot 74.
"The only thing was I just really couldn't get any putts to fall," Fowler said of that loss. "I felt really good where I was at in that position. Obviously this is a little bit bigger stage and a major, but I'm ready to go out and have some fun and play well."
Having fun seems to be a recurrent theme for the son of dirt bike racer who likes nothing better than to get a little air himself, too. That was his mindset going out Saturday in conditions so miserable there was little hope of keeping clubs or player dry. Embracing the moment, Fowler made par after par before back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 put him in red numbers.
Credit some of that to Tom Watson, who went out before Fowler on his way to a 72. Fowler's caddie noticed Watson was making the most of the moment, smiling as he went along despite the lousy weather.
"The best way to deal with tough and hard conditions is just go out and try and make a good time of it," Fowler said. "So starting the round we just wanted to keep moving forward, have fun hitting golf shots."
Fowler also had some fun beating McIlroy, whose runaway win in the U.S. Open last month made him the de facto leader of golf's list of hot young prospects. But while McIlroy now has three wins, Fowler is still stuck on zero.
For that to change on Sunday, Fowler will have to change the ways he plays on Sundays. He plans to draw on his Ryder Cup experience to keep calm, and hopes the forecast for strong winds holds because he tends to focus harder in bad weather.
One thing that won't change is his outfit. He starred at Oklahoma State so he wears orange on Sunday -- and lots of it.
That should be quite a sight at stodgy Royal St. George's, where the usual dress code tends toward more formal wear.
Pair the orange with the Open trophy, though, and suddenly it makes perfect fashion sense.