Scenery Change at Shinnecock

By Associated PressJune 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The scenery was so much different when the U.S. Open last went to Long Island.
 
It was two years ago at Bethpage Black, a beast of a golf course anyone could play for $31, where raucous New Yorkers cheered for Phil Mickelson, razzed Sergio Garcia and left amazed at the incomparable Tiger Woods, who won his seventh major in his last 11 tries and then set off to win the Grand Slam.
 
No one was close to him that Sunday. No one was close in the game. That's hardly the case now.
 
The U.S. Open will be played at Shinnecock Hills, an exclusive country club in the Hamptons that reeks of wealth and civility, and values its place in history as one of the five founding clubs of the U.S. Golf Association.
 
Players rolled up their sleeves and bashed the ball at Bethpage. At Shinnecock, they straighten their collar and carefully steer through a links-styled course that relies on wind and waist-high fescue to protect par.
 
The landscape is just as different at the top of golf.
 
Woods hasn't captured a major since he left Long Island. And for the first time since winning his first major at the '97 Masters with record-breaking, breathtaking ease, he no longer is the prohibitive favorite.
 
``Times have changed,'' Ernie Els said. ``I think guys get on the first tee and really believe they can win with Tiger in the field. Golf will always humble the best of them. That's where we are.''
 
Woods is still No. 1 in the world, but now it's a number, not a statement.
 
His only victory this year came at the Match Play Championship, where who you play can be more important than how you play. Woods had his worst finish ever at Augusta National as a pro. He squandered 36-hole leads in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, something he had not done in 18 previous occasions over five years.
 
``Everybody feels the intimidation factor is not what it was,'' Brad Faxon said.
 
Els climbed to No. 2 in the world by winning the Memorial, his third victory worldwide this year. Vijay Singh is right behind, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour after snatching the money title away from Woods last season. Phil Mickelson is playing as well as both of them, now armed with confidence after winning the Masters.
 
``I think Vijay and Ernie are certainly playing the best golf of anybody on tour,'' Davis Love III said. ``Leave the rankings out of it. You say, 'Who do you like for this horse race this week?' Well, you'd be hard-pressed to pass Vijay and Ernie.''
 
The U.S. Open is rarely a horse race. Regarded as the toughest test in golf, it is a four-day survival -- five if it goes to a playoff -- that chews up any player of any level who loses his patience or his mind. Usually, the two go together.
 
``You've got to be prepared to see stuff you've never seen before,'' John Cook said.
 
The wind blew hard only one round in each of the last two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock, and birdies were still rare. Raymond Floyd won in 1986 at 1-under 279, Corey Pavin in 1995 at even par.
 
``It's one of the best golf courses in the world I've played,'' Singh said. ``I think everybody is excited, but at the same time a little fearful of how tough the golf course is going to play. If the wind blows, it's going to be almost impossible.''
 
The course has been lengthened by about 80 yards, and tweaked in other areas. Several chipping areas have been created, similar to Pinehurst No. 2. Faxon found that instead of having the ball in an uphill lie in rough, it rolled some 20 yards away from the green, making it much tougher to get the ball close.
 
Mickelson spent three days at Shinnecock last week, studying the venerable course as though he were cramming for a final exam. Lefty had his first good shot at winning a major in the '95 U.S. Open, finishing four shots behind despite playing the par-5 16th in 6 over par for the week.
 
Nine years later, Mickelson finally has his major after winning the Masters with a 31 on the back nine.
 
``I'm looking forward to the U.S. Open this year,'' Mickelson said. ``It's not because I won't have to answer the question of a guy who's never won a major. It's because I have a lot of confidence now, a lot of belief that I can break through and win big tournaments.''
 
Els' confidence is typically high coming into any U.S. Open. He is a two-time champion (Oakmont in '94 and Congressional in '97), although he doesn't have the best memories of Shinnecock. He was the defending champion that year and in the traditional pairing with British Open champion Nick Price and the U.S. Amateur champ -- Woods, playing in his first U.S. Open.
 
Els missed the cut. Woods didn't even make it through two rounds, tearing ligaments in his wrist on the third hole of the second round while trying to hack out of the rough. He withdrew three holes later.
 
``He took a cut out of that rough like I've never seen before,'' Price said. ``Now, he might be able to get away with it because he's that much stronger. He was a skinny little guy in those days.''
 
Not anymore. Everyone is wondering what happened to the guy who dominated the majors during a three-year stretch.
 
This isn't the longest Woods has gone without winning a major; he went 10 majors from the '97 Masters to the '99 PGA Championship. Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 professional majors is the benchmark Woods chases, once went 12 consecutive majors without winning during his prime.
 
That intimidating presence started to wane a month after he left Long Island.
 
Woods was two shots out of the lead going into the third round of the British Open at Muirfield, primed to add the third leg of the Grand Slam. But in whipping wind off the Firth of Forth, Woods crashed to an 81. A month later at Hazeltine, he flinched trying to catch Rich Beem at the PGA, and even Woods closing with four straight birdies wasn't enough to scare the former car stereo salesman.
 
``He had just won two majors and was going for the Grand Slam. That gap was so big,'' Els said. ``I didn't see any light there. That Saturday (at Muirfield) really changed a lot of things, how we see it today. Since then, it's been quite different. There is a huge shift.''
 
Woods might not be the clear-cut favorite, but he figures to command the most attention at this U.S. Open.
 
His swing is under constant scrutiny, and so is his split two years ago from longtime coach Butch Harmon. Harmon recently suggested Woods look at videotape of his 2000 swing to see how far off he is. Woods says he is tinkering with his swing to make it even better, although he gets lockjaw whenever he is asked to explain exactly what he's working on.
 
Then again, Woods still commands respect from his peers.
 
``Other players are playing better,'' Faxon said. ``But where would everybody else be if Tiger was still in the form he was? It wouldn't look that way. We all know how good he can be.''
 
And everyone knows how tough the U.S. Open can be -- especially at Shinnecock Hills.
 
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    Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

    By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

    Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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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 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.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    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.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    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.