Japanese Tiger Leads Nissan Open
Despite his only bogey in the first two rounds, the 34-year-old known as the 'Japanese Tiger' had a 4-under 67 and a one-stroke lead going into the weekend.
'I'm very happy and surprised to be in front,' he said through a translator.
Taniguchi was at 133, one stroke ahead of Jesper Parnevik, Len Mattiace, Brad Faxon and Scott McCarron.
Faxon had a 67 at Riviera Country Club, scene of his greatest PGA Tour round in 1995, when he had a 28 on the front nine and closed with a 63 in the PGA Championship to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
McCarron, who played Riviera about once a month while going to UCLA, drove the 305-yard 10th green and holed a 36-foot eagle putt on his way to a 65.
Parnevik had six birdies and four bogeys in a fun-packed round of 69, while Mattiace birdied his last four holes for a 65.
Bob Tway had a 68 and was another stroke back, while David Duval showed once again that nothing beats a clear head. He has a history of performing well after taking time off, and a 69 on a clear, breezy day off Sunset Boulevard left him only three strokes back.
'This tournament always seems to have guys bunched up,' McCarron said.
And just about everyone was still in the picture. Those who made the cut were only nine strokes out of the lead. That includes Robert Allenby, who had a 66 and was at 139. He avoided becoming the fifth straight defending champion to miss the cut.
Sergio Garcia had a 67 and was at 140.
They refer to Taniguchi as 'Tiger' on the Japanese Tour because he pumps his fist whenever he makes birdie and prefers to wear red shirts on Sunday. His results bear no likeness to Tiger Woods.
Taniguchi has won only three times on that circuit, and he hasn't won since 2000.
Still, he is one of several Japanese players who is slowly emerging on the global scene. A year ago, he finished third in the Match Play Championship in Australia after losing 2-and-1 to eventual champion Steve Stricker, then beating Ernie Els in the consolation match.
Not many recall his third-place finish in a World Golf Championship event. A victory in the Nissan Open would be another matter.
'America is the top tour in the world. All the players are in the top class,' he said. 'That's a big difference from Japan. I'm satisfied winning Japan, but not totally satisfied. I'm trying to win in the U.S.'
Taniguchi described himself as a steady player who can be aggressive, and he used that combination well. His only birdie putt longer than eight feet was a 25-footer on No. 15, and his only bogey over the first 36 holes came when he missed the green long on No. 18.
Taniguchi is playing on a foreign exemption, and typically plays the West Coast events when possible because he is familiar with the courses.
No one gets vibes quite like Faxon.
'I played the best round of my life - ever - here in '95,' he said.
The better explanation for his 67-67 start was seeing his swing coach in San Diego before coming to Los Angeles, just like he did last year at the start of a season in which he won the Sony Open in his second tournament.
'I'm ready to play like I was at the beginning of last year,' he said.
It helped that Faxon managed to get a few extra hours of sleep. This is his second tournament since daughter Charlotte was born Jan. 18.
He also has developed a knack for holing shots from the fairway this week. On Thursday, it was a 70-yard pitch from the 11th fairway for eagle. On Friday, he got a boost by hitting into the bunker on No. 7, coming up short of the green and holing a 40-yard chip for birdie.
News, Notes and Numbers
*Jeff Maggert was disqualified when he bent his putter out of frustration on the 18th hole, then tapped in for bogey. One problem. Under Rule 4-3b, a player may not use a club that is damaged other than in the normal course of play when its characteristics have been altered. The penalty is disqualification.
'I thought it was a two-stroke penalty, but then I got to thinking about and called a rules official over,' Maggert said. 'The way I've been putting, maybe a new putter is what I need, anyway.'
*The Nissan Open is raising its purse next year by $800,000, making total prize money $4.5 million. There also will be a name change. While Nissan remains the title sponsor for at least four more years, Countrywide Credit Industries will be the presenting sponsor.
*Duval is playing for the first time with a bimatrix shaft in his driver. The shaft is a combination of steel by the clubhead and graphite.
Full-field scores from the Nissan Open
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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 Web.com 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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
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."
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."