Bordering on the Delightful
For starters there was the 18th hole, a 446-yard crucible of a par-4 with a hazard in the landing area that took driver out of the players hand and, in many cases, forced them to hit a long-iron off a downhill lie up to a small, elevated green on their second shots. How, we wonder, could architect H.S. Colt have known all those years ago that he was building a finishing hole that would stand the test of time?
The idea that par on the 72nd hole is a meaningful score is a notion we don't see enough of at golf's top levels these days. If Tom Pernice, for example, had made four on the 72nd hole, he would have joined Tway and Brad Faxon in the playoff.
Colt's 18th at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club also went a long way towards producing the kind of winning score - 8-under par - that is just about correct. Anytime the big boys get to 20-under or better for 72 holes, the eyes tend to glaze. The word 'birdiefest' creeps into the lexicon. These guys are good. But maybe we don't want them to be THAT good. Conversely, on those rare occasions when even par or worse wins a tournament, it is usually because somebody has tricked up the layout.
Hamilton Golf & Country Club was neither tricked up or tricked down. It was a fair test with turn-of-the-century aesthetics. And the players, almost to a man, loved it. How often, by the way, does that happen?
I also liked the Bell Canadian Open because it had, in its field, a matinee idol, whose name wasn't Tiger Woods. Surely if Jesse Ventura can get himself elected governor of Minnesota, Canadian lefty Mike Weir can get himself voted in as his country's Prime Minister one day. Weir fulfilled all his obligations, on and off the golf course, every step of the way last week. And the adoring crowds loved every moment of it. The Masters champion birdied the 16th and 17th holes Sunday and almost made one of the best scrambling pars you will ever see on 18 en route to a 10th-place finish.
Then there was Hidemichi Tanaka. This diminutive Japanese player (132 pounds, size 28 waist) was the 54-hole leader. He told the Canadian media how much he loves their country and how he has been carrying a Canadian two dollar piece--a 'Toonie'--to mark his golf ball for years now. Tanaka, in his second full year on the PGA Tour, has won nine times in Japan. He almost got it done three years ago at Valderrama in the WGC-American Express Championship. Alas, he shot a final round 77 to leave the door open for...you guessed it...Mike Weir.
Tanaka grew up in Hiroshima and his boyhood idol was Tom Watson. He finished tied for 15th at this year's U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. We haven't heard the last of him yet. One of his nicknames in Japan is 'The Ant.' Figuratively, Tanaka can carry many times his own weight. At Hamilton, Tanaka, too, bogeyed the last hole and wound up tied for fourth with K.J. Choi.
Meanwhile, the principal focus of golf this week will shift to the women's side for the Solheim Cup matches that will begin Friday in Sweden.
These matches, too, are always a breath of fresh air, although it won't seem the same without Dottie Pepper playing for the Americans. This is the second straight time injuries have kept the voluble Pepper from competing. She is the heart and soul of the American team. Let's hope, at the relatively young age of 38, Pepper's Solheim Cup run has not ended.
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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."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."