Notes: U.S. Open alternates important this year

By Associated PressJune 6, 2017, 10:01 pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Alternates from U.S. Open sectional qualifiers were never more important as they were this year.

The USGA held back six spots from the 10 sectional qualifiers to make sure it could accommodate anyone who got into the top 60 in the world ranking after this week. It was a safe move because the U.S. Open field is capped at 156 players.

But there won't be a lot of movement this year.

Chris Wood is at No. 60 in the world, and he would stay there provided Scott Piercy doesn't finish among the top 20 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. So that's one spot, maybe. But with Soren Kjeldsen withdrawing from the St. Jude Classic, only one other person has a mathematical chance to get into the top 60 in the world, and he would have to win the St. Jude Classic. That applies to only about five players, such as Ian Poulter and Hudson Swafford.

So at least four spots will be going to alternates, and that doesn't even include Phil Mickelson, who plans to withdraw because of his daughter's high school graduation.

It's difficult to miss U.S. Open qualifying by one spot, but the playoffs to determine first alternates were critical this year.

Among the first alternates was Davis Love IV, who goes primarily by Dru and is the son of the two-time Ryder Cup captain. He played in the Georgia sectional, which awarded the fewest spots (2) of any U.S. qualifier and could be high on the alternate list.

In Columbus, Michael Putnam was the only player who didn't advance in the 4-for-3 playoff Tuesday morning, but he was first alternate. The first alternate in the Texas sectional was Ryan Palmer. Along with the 10 U.S. sectional qualifiers, there was one in Japan and one in England. Those sites also have an alternate.

The mystery is which alternate gets chosen first.

The USGA does not disclose the priority list, though it keeps in touch with players to allow them time to get to Wisconsin. The U.S. Open starts June 15 at Erin Hills. The priority is based on a formula that includes how many spots each section was allocated, and the strength of field determined by the world ranking (pro and amateur).

GOOD TO GO: Rory McIlroy took off more time than he expected after The Players Championship to rest his ailing ribs, but it appears he'll be ready to go next week at the U.S. Open. McIlroy withdrew from the BMW PGA Championship and then the Memorial.

''I am ready for Erin Hills and looking forward to playing there for the first time,'' McIlroy told The Guardian. ''The last few weeks have obviously been frustrating - I never like to miss events either on the PGA Tour or European Tour - but it was important I got back to a level of fitness where I felt like I could give myself the best possible chance at the U.S. Open.

''As I have said many times before, majors will ultimately determine my golf career, but I have had the rest of this busy season to consider as well.''

McIlroy will have gone a month without competition heading into the U.S. Open.

BONUS MONEY: Anirban Lahiri did his part in the Memorial by closing with a 65. And then he got a little help when he could no longer win.

Jason Dufner clinched it with a 30-foot par putt on the 18th hole to finish at 13-under 275. Lahiri had finished hours earlier at 10-under 278. But then Rickie Fowler muffed a delicate chip on the 18th and closed with a bogey, dropping him to 10 under with Lahiri and Justin Thomas. And with the tournament decided, Thomas went into the right bunker and missed a 12-foot par putt, dropping him to 9 under.

Fowler and Thomas making pars would have meant a two-way tie for third for Lahiri. Instead, their bogeys gave him a two-way tie for second. That's a difference of $261,000 - Lahiri earned $765,600, when he could have easily had $504,600 for that two-way tie for third. It's also a difference of 83 FedEx Cup points.

The PGA Tour season is loaded with such moments - if not for this putt made or that one missed - but this might be worth bearing later in the season as Lahiri tries to make his way through the FedEx Cup playoffs.

A year ago, the difference of advancing to the BMW Championship was nine points. The difference in making the Tour Championship between 30th place (Charl Schwartzel) and 31st place (Fowler) was less than one point (0.57).

So yes, every shot counts.

JACK PASSED: Jack Nicklaus broke the record for most majors when he won the 1973 PGA Championship for No. 14. He won his 16th and 17th in 1980, and then started cutting back on his schedule as he split time among other interests, particularly his kids. Nicklaus used to wonder if he would have won more majors had the previous record been more than it was.

That's why Nicklaus was so amused when someone mentioned Bernhard Langer breaking his record with a ninth senior major.

''If I'd have known Langer had come along, I would have played more,'' Nicklaus said.

He was kidding.

''I think he's been a better player as he's gotten older,'' Nicklaus said. ''I think he's an amazingly good player. He's a good guy. I'm happy for him.''

DIVOTS: Three-time Hale Irwin was selected to be the honoree for the Memorial next year. Irwin was a two-time winner of the Memorial. Jock Hutchison and Willie Turnesa will be honored posthumously. ... Tiger Woods fell to No. 899 in the world ranking, his lowest position. He had been No. 898 until he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge last December when he returned from a 15-month layoff. ... Matthias Schwab of Vanderbilt makes his pro debut in his home country at the Lyoness Open in Austria. ... With I.K. Kim winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic last week, the LPGA Tour now has gone 13 straight tournaments to start the year without a multiple winner. At this point a year ago, four players had multiple victories.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Andy Pope has qualified for the U.S. Open three straight years - twice by getting through 18-hole local and 36-hole sectional qualifying.

FINAL WORD: ''If you look at the next 10 sites, we'll have people complaining that we don't go anywhere new.'' - USGA executive director Mike Davis on the U.S. Open being held at new courses - Chambers Bay and Erin Hills - over the last three years.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.