Everything's the same for co-leader Jones, yet different

By Bailey MosierJanuary 31, 2014, 11:57 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In an era where PGA Tour players make more changes in coaches, caddies and equipment than wardrobe changes at a Cher concert, Matt Jones, who co-leads the Waste Management Phoenix Open through two rounds, is a welcome reprieve.

The 33-year-old Sydney, Australia, native who went to Arizona State University and has made his home in Scottsdale has had the same swing coach since he was 15. Winless on any tour since turning pro in 2001, when he left ASU after his junior year, the Sun Devil’s day in the sun may finally be dawning.

“It’s years of work,” Jones said of his time with swing coach Gary Barter, who lives and teaches at the Australian Golf Club in a suburb of Sydney. “We do the same thing, trying and improve the same areas and they are probably starting to come together.”

Barter isn’t on-site this week in Scottsdale, but was Stateside a “few weeks ago” and “will be here on Monday in Pebble” to connect with Jones for next week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

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Jones’ 6-under 65 on Friday was bested by only one player (Brandt Snedeker, 64), and matches his lowest round ever (Thursday’s 65) in the WMPO. That wouldn’t ordinarily be difficult to believe, except Jones is no stranger to TPC Scottsdale’s bends and Bermuda. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“I play (TPC Scottsdale) a lot, actually,” Jones said. “I do a lot of practice here, and then I do a lot of playing in the afternoons.”

It seems curious, then, that in five previous starts in the event, he’s made the cut just once – in 2012 – where he went on to finish T-40.

“I have never played well here. … I always struggle to break par here for some reason.”

Fair enough. But there has to be some reason.

“The golf tournament is so different tournament week than it is when you play out here regularly. It’s a lot harder, a lot faster. The greens are a lot quicker. The pins are a lot more tucked out here. So it’s like a new golf course.”

A new golf course, but an old approach.

It seems a winning formula for Jones as of late. After seven years on Tour (Jones has also spent time on the Australasia and Web.com tours), things are finally starting to come together. He came in second at last year’s Greenbrier Classic – his lowest showing on Tour - was a career-best 32nd in the FedEx Cup standings and was 48th on the money list (also a career high). He made 18 cuts in 24 starts in 2013.

His stats will tell you he’s playing better, too. He was ranked 12th on Tour in total driving and 30th in ball-striking in 2013  – both career lows for the Australian.

And he knows it.

“My driving (has gotten better),” Jones said. “I’m not having the misses that I used to have. My wedge game, took years for me to be able to control the ball, trajectory, spin of the wedges how we wanted. They’re starting to get better.”

While his ball-striking has improved, last year’s strokes gained putting statistic (he ranked 66th) shows that he continues to struggle in that area. Alas, self-awareness is the first step toward advancement.

“The putting is always the one that I need to improve on or become more consistent at.”

The course is finally showing some warmth and welcoming to Jones in this event, but that doesn’t mean the fans at 16 are.

“None [reaction on 16], really,” Jones said. “As long as I’m playing well, it doesn’t bother me if there are people supporting me or not. I have plenty of friends and family out in the crowd. I know they are watching and supporting.”

While everything in Jones’ routine and swing is the same as it always has been, by week’s end there might be something very different about him. He might finally be a PGA Tour winner.

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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.