Donald Readies for Major Breakout

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill -- Luke Donald wants to be considered the best player in the world.
Well, here's his chance.

The British expatriate with the big dreams will be on full display Sunday, sharing the lead and playing with Tiger Woods in the final group at the PGA Championship. Not only does he have a chance to win his first major and break Europe's long PGA losing streak, but it's Donald's chance to prove he can do more than talk.
Luke Donald
Luke Donald has the home crowd at his back this week at Medinah.
'This is my first chance, really, of trying to impress,' he said after his 3-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole helped him tie with Woods at 14-under.
'This is where I want to be,' said Donald, who lives nearby. 'This is what I need to do if I want to realize that dream and try to become the best player in the world.'
Donald has been one of those 'players on the rise' seemingly forever. He won the NCAA title at nearby Northwestern in 1999, and led Britain and Ireland to victory in the Walker Cup five years ago. He's played on a Ryder Cup team, won two PGA Tour events and was tied for third at the 2005 Masters -- though he was so far from Woods and Chris DiMarco he might as well have been playing in South Carolina.
But he's never been able to break through at the biggest events.
After winning the Honda Classic in March, Donald said he needed an attitude adjustment. If his goal was to unseat Woods as best in the world, he needed to start thinking -- and playing -- as if he was capable of doing it.
'I think the only way for me to catch him is to start believing I'm as good as him,' Donald said then. 'If I don't believe that, I'm not going to be as good as him, full stop. So I've got to start believing.'
It took some doing, though. He was never in contention at the Masters, opening with 74 and shooting a 76 on Saturday. He blew up with a first-round 78 at the U.S. Open, and had an anemic 74 the first day at the British.
'It's just a lot of trying too hard, really, is what I would put it down to,' Donald said Saturday. 'I would say to myself, `I'm not going to press, I'm not going to get upset when I hit bad shots.' And I did. I keep telling myself not to do it, but I did it.
'This week I was determined to have a little bit more fun out there.'
He certainly seems to be having a ball. He was in a four-way tie for the lead with Billy Andrade, Henrik Stenson and Tim Herron after a second straight 68 Friday. But while the other three stood pat (Herron) or fell apart (Andrade and Stenson), Donald kept right on going.
He shot a 6-under 66 on Saturday, and hasn't had a bogey since the first round. Most importantly, he's playing loose and relaxed.
'I felt more comfortable out there today than the first two days with my game,' he said. 'I hit more fairways, more greens and felt pretty much under control. It's always nice when you have that feeling on the golf course.'
Especially when you start the way Donald did.
His shot off the first tee found heavy rough. Though he made a nice punchout, his weak chip shot left him a 10-foot uphill putt just to save par. He made it, though, and took off from there.
He made birdie putts from 20 and 30 feet on the next two holes, and had three more before he made the turn. He picked up only one stroke on the back nine, but it was a biggie.
Woods had moved into the lead with three straight birdies, topping Donald at 14-under. After a bogey -- Woods' first since the first hole of the tournament -- he got back to 14 with a 12-foot putt on the 17th hole.
But Donald matched it. His 6-iron off the tee on the par-3 landed three feet from the cup, and he tapped in to reclaim a share of the lead.
'Playing with Tiger Woods in the last round of a major, especially it being in Chicago where I've been living for the last nine years, that's going to be exciting, something I'm going to be looking forward to,' he said. 'It's quite a thrill.'
It's going to be nerve-racking, too. Woods is 11-0 in majors when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead, including a win at the British Open last month. He won the PGA the last time it was at Medinah Country Club in 1999, and seems to be getting better with every hole he plays.
'His numbers are obviously impressive,' Donald said. 'Saying that, there's a lot of expectations on that. He doesn't want to ruin that record and he'll have people expecting him to win. Maybe I can use that to my advantage and just kind of sneak by without anyone noticing and pick up the trophy.'
A few people would probably notice.
He's had plenty of local support this week. He's greeted with a 'Go Northwestern!' or 'Go Wildcats!' wherever he goes, and there were chants of 'Luuuke! Luuuke!' when he made his birdie on 17.
'It's been fun and it's motivated me, for sure,' Donald said. 'I don't know whether the local support will outweigh Tiger's Army following him. It will be fun, and I'm sure I'll have a lot more support than I would if it were anywhere else.'
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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

    Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

    "This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."