Fowler, Padraig, Poults among those T-2 at Scottish

By Associated PressJuly 13, 2017, 7:19 pm

IRVINE, Scotland - Rickie Fowler skipped the defense of his Scottish Open title last year with a heavy heart.

He began making up for lost time on Thursday.

The American picked up where he left off in 2015 at the warmup event for the British Open, avoiding trouble and rolling in five birdies at Dundonald Links to shoot a 5-under 67 in the first round. He is in a six-way tie for second place, two shots behind Mikko Ilonen.

Fowler, who won the Scottish Open when it was held at Gullane, missed the 2016 tournament because of scheduling conflicts arising from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which clogged up the golfing calendar last summer.

''I would have loved to have been here,'' he said. ''Coming off winning the year before, I love playing links golf and I love playing the week before a major. It was tough to miss it.

''I'm just glad to be back.''

The highlight of a stress-free and well-managed round, when he only ran out of position once, was a left-to-right birdie putt at No. 4 that curled into the cup from 20 feet. That came in the midst of three straight birdies on his back nine as Fowler outplayed his partners Rory McIlroy (74) and Henrik Stenson (72) in the marquee group, continuing his consistent form this year.

Fowler has contended at both majors so far and has seven top-10 finishes this season.


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Ilonen, the world No. 335 from Finland who arrived in Scotland on the back of four straight missed cuts, said he only made one bad swing in what he described as his best round of the season. He thinned his tee shot right at No. 8 - his second-to-last hole - using a rescue club, only to pull off a superb approach from the thick rough and salvage a par from 10 feet.

He had seven birdies in all - five of them coming in six holes from Nos. 1-6 - and was delighted that a decision to use a new set of irons this week paid off.

Ilonen is a five-time winner on the European Tour and has links pedigree, having won the British Amateur in 2000. His highest finish in 2017, however, was tied for 32nd in Dubai.

''I haven't been able to put two rounds together, never mind four,'' said Ilonen, who wasn't getting carried away.

Ilonen, an afternoon starter, was giving his post-round interviews just as rain began to fall for the first time in an opening round that featured a sometimes-fierce breeze off the Ayrshire coast in western Scotland.

Padraig Harrington battled through the rain to roll in a 25-yard par putt from off the 16th green and chip in from the back of No. 17 to complete a 67, joining Fowler, Ian Poulter, Paul Peterson, Callum Shinkwin and Andrew Dodt.

Harrington called his par at No. 16 a ''minor miracle,'' having thought he'd lost his ball off the tee. It was found by a scorer in an unplayable lie, so Harrington took a penalty drop, hacked out and made the putt.

''Seven would have been a good score there,'' said Harrington, who won the British Open in 2008 on the last occasion it was held at Royal Birkdale - the venue for the major next week.

Reigning Open champion Stenson rebounded from a triple-bogey 7 on his first hole (No. 10) - after driving left into thick rough and needing three hacks to get the ball out - to shoot level par. He cut a frustrated figure on his back nine, chucking his club high into the air on his last hole after a weak approach.

Wedge play was McIlroy's undoing, too, on a day the out-of-form world No. 4 failed to shoot the consistent round he has seeking ahead of the Open. On his third and fourth holes, he was in the middle of the fairway and less than 100 yards out, yet fell short and right with his approaches - the latter into a burn to necessitate a drop for a double-bogey.

From 4 over after four holes, McIlroy recovered to 1 over after 16, with three of his four birdies coming via tap-ins on par fives.

McIlroy has missed the cut in two of his last three events, the U.S. Open and the Irish Open.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.