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January 19, 2016

Rickie Fowler

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

STEVE TODD: Rickie, many thanks for joining us. Warm welcome back to Abu Dhabi, your second time around here. Just give us your thoughts on coming back this week.

RICKIE FOWLER: Definitely excited to be back. Feel like it's a great spot to kind of get the year going over here. Obviously great weather, the golf course is in perfect shape from what I can see, being out there yesterday.

HSBC has done a great job here, and I think we've got a pretty strong field, having four of the top six in the world, and plenty more guys behind us that are ready to play some good golf. So it's going to be a fun week.

STEVE TODD: You've obviously got one good performance already under your belt this season. Give us a sense where the game is at after the winter break.

RICKIE FOWLER: Well, even going back to the Bahamas and Kapalua, shooting both I think 20- and 21- or 22-under, didn't come close to a win. Just shows you how good the guys are playing. You have to be on top of your game to have a chance.

It's going to be a fun ride this year. A lot of guys are playing well, but you look at some of the top guys in the world, and ready to go kind of beat up on each other. All really good friends. It's going to be an exciting year for golf.

Q. Last year when you came to this tournament, it was your first tournament of the season. This year, you're coming after playing a tournament, the Tournament of Champions. How does that change the way you will be this week or what the fans can expect you to be this week?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, I hope to play better. Game feels like it's in a lot better position now than it was last year. Being that I've played well through the end of last year and already at the start of the season, so much more prepared and looking forward to getting off to a good start and giving myself a good chance at winning this week.

Q. Just wondering what you thought about riding those hover boards this morning at Saadiyat, what you thought of that and what the experience was like.
RICKIE FOWLER: We had a good time over there on the golf boards messing around. Definitely I think that would speed up play and make it a bit more fun for some people.

Q. I know you've ridden a lot of dirt bikes, but what's one of the most dangerous things you've done in the off-season? You probably may have seen on Twitter, Jamie Donaldson had sort of cut himself using a chainsaw?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I didn't mess with my chainsaws. Good to see he's all right and hope that Jamie can be back quickly.

Most dangerous over the off-season; I actually tried to stay as safe as possible. I played a lot of golf, so that was a good thing.

Q. You touched on this a little earlier when you said about the top guys all playing great golf. We've got four of the top five under 30, as you say, you're all very close, as well. Do you get the feeling we are seeing the start of perhaps a new guard in golf?
RICKIE FOWLER: Maybe not so much a new guard, but kind of the younger generation and guys that you thought would possibly have a chance of becoming the best players in the world. Some guys kind of stepping up and I guess owning that in a way. You're seeing outside of Rory and Jordan and Jason, other guys like a Justin Thomas, and seeing some young guys win in the fall on the PGA TOUR, it's just a lot of young guys playing well. You're still not going to look past any names like a Phil Mickelson or a Tiger Woods yet.

Q. For yourself, obviously The Players Championship, you regard as just that one notch below the majors. Is that what you need now to break into that gang?
RICKIE FOWLER: I definitely feel like adding a major to the resumé would be a huge step in the right direction. The last two years have been very good steps for me to continue to move forward to have the finishes that I did in the majors in 2014 and to get the wins that I did last year.

The game has continued to get better. I feel like I played very well through the last half of last year, through the fall, and I'm really looking forward to getting 2016 started. I've got a good stretch coming up here, San Diego next week and Phoenix, so really looking forward to these three weeks.

Q. Just curious about the Olympic Games, huge year for golf. Where would winning a golf medal rank for you versus, for example, breaking through in a major or even as the players champion, those huge events, as well. Where does an Olympic Gold Medal fit in that kind of hierarchy?
RICKIE FOWLER: I haven't really thought about that as much. It's so different. To me, a major is going to be a major. It's always a major. That's the No. 1 on my priority and goals list right now.

But to just have the chance to play in the Olympics would be pretty special. It's something that I've always watched the Olympic Games growing up, and thought about how cool it would be to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, the Closing Ceremonies and seeing everyone compete. But it was kind of unrealistic being that golf wasn't a part of it.

Now that we have the chance to possibly be able to do that, that would be really cool, and a medal would be a bonus.

Q. Just go back to what you were speaking about earlier. There's a lot of talk this week about Rory and Jordan in the same field. You're part of that discussion as well, and do you think you should be an equal part of that discussion or do you feel you still have some way to go to do that?
RICKIE FOWLER: I may not be as ranked as high but I'm close. A major would help become a solid part of the talk. But I look forward to, you know, going against those boys and having a good time. We're all good buddies, so it's going to be a fun walk the first two days.

Yeah, it would be fun to kind of get the three of us going and see if we can push each other and all have a good week. I know I want to see those guys play well, because I feel like it brings out the best in me, and I feel like I can push and motivate them, as well. So it would be fun to be able to feed off each other and bring out the best in everyone.

Q. Why do you think there's no fear from these young guys coming up? We see it on this side of the pond, we see it in South Africa and we see it on your side of the pond. It seems almost immediate, where in the past, you had to serve your apprenticeship. Why do you think there's no fear among these guys?
RICKIE FOWLER: I feel like -- I mean, there's always been great competition growing up. But I feel like the competition has continued to rise through junior golf and amateur golf to college golf in the States.

I know college golf isn't as big over here outside of the U.S., but I just feel like guys are ready to win, and I feel like some parts that have helped is seeing guys that have maybe been just older than them have success, and to give them that little added confidence and belief that they can go do the same thing.

Q. Did you feel that way when you came out of Oklahoma State? Was it immediate, that you thought you could come out and compete?
RICKIE FOWLER: I played my first event as an amateur, missed my first cut in a PGA TOUR event by one, and I didn't play anywhere close to well at all. I felt like with that, missing the cut, it actually gave me a lot of confidence that I can go out and play with those guys.

Just having that belief and that little bit of confidence goes a long ways, because I think that's half the battle is believing in yourself out here and having the confidence that you can go compete against the best players in the world.

Q. We know you play a lot around the world and you've had success around the world, Korea and Scotland. Do you feel as one of the game's top-ranked players that there's an obligation to play around the world? I know you have releases from the PGA TOUR to play, but what does it do for your game when you play around the world?
RICKIE FOWLER: Definitely, I enjoy travelling. I feel like that's kind of a fun part of the job. Sometimes the travel is tough, but I enjoy seeing different parts of the world, different cultures and just seeing what's all out there.

So that's one fun thing for me and I look forward to continuing to play a bit around the world. But main focus being the PGA TOUR. But it's definitely been a lot of fun the last few years being able to see new places.

Q. Do you still feel as though there's an obligation on you guys when you are top-ranked players to travel outside of the States?
RICKIE FOWLER: Not so much an obligation. I feel like it's kind of an honour to get to go do it, and having the support and the fan base all around the world wherever you go, that's pretty special to see.

Q. Last year, you had a 67 here, but there was a bit of struggle in the other three rounds. What did you think of the golf course, how does it play out for you, and what do you think of it this year with a couple of changes that have been made?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, actually, I've only played the back nine. I played that yesterday, so I'm going to go play the front this afternoon. I mean, hard to believe, but I think the course is in better shape this year than it was last year, and it was perfect last year.

It's a great golf course. It's a good, fun test. It's fairly straightforward. It's not tricked up. You've got to drive the ball well, and having a bit of rough definitely makes that a premium to be in the fairway.

So with the weather, the perfect conditions of the golf course, it's a great place to have a tournament and to be able to see kind of where your game is at, and then also being that you're playing against some of the best players in the world.

Q. Could we revisit the Olympics and all that, and could I ask you a difficult question: An Olympic Gold Medal or a major championship?
RICKIE FOWLER: I'll take a major. (Smiling). (Laughter).

Q. Thank you.

Q. Do you want to expand on that?
RICKIE FOWLER: Like I was talking about earlier, a major is a major and it's always going to be a major. And kind of went as far as -- they are completely different. Up until this year, recent years, the Olympics was never really even a thought for us. So they are just completely different ends of the spectrum.

But a medal at the Olympics and just to be part of the team and play for your country, any time you get to play for your country, looking back at playing in the Walker Cup and now to The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, they are special occasions and special moments. That would just be another chance to do that. It's pretty special being able to carry your flag and wear your colors.

Q. Quickly about your schedule, playing here. Are you defending Scotland and are you playing Ireland?
RICKIE FOWLER: We really haven't gone that far in the schedule. Really focusing on the first quarter. I'm actually going to get two weeks off after Phoenix and then really just focusing on the first -- play the first two in Florida, Honda and Doral. So I think the main focus is right now, the first couple months and getting off to the start that we need, and then going from there.

Q. Just off the back of John's question, is it a harder one to answer if the choice is a major or a Ryder Cup victory for the United States?
RICKIE FOWLER: That one's tough. You know, I feel like the GolfBoard victory for Jordan and I this morning over Rory and Henrik was a sign (laughter). It's the first good match we've given them in a while. I know the guys are fired up about The Ryder Cup, and that's definitely a goal once everything gets passed through the year.

Yeah, we want that Ryder Cup, so I think it's going to be a good Ryder Cup year.

STEVE TODD: Thanks for joining us, Rickie. Wish you all the best this week.

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