Notes Gulbis Improving Players Marrying

By Brian HewittJanuary 11, 2007, 5:00 pm
Sergio Garcia turned 27 Tuesday and more than a few people noted that one more year had passed without one of golfs most promising players winning a major championship. It has also been noted by a smaller group of observers that Garcia has fallen out of the top 10 in the World Rankings.

Which brings us, in a roundabout sort of way, to Natalie Gulbis.

No, Sergio is not dating her.

Natalie Gulbis
Natalie Gulbis has 25 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour, but no wins.
But two days before Garcias 27th birthday Gulbis turned 24. She has played golf professionally since 2002. She currently ranks No. 20 in the Rolex Womens World Golf Rankings.

And shes still looking for her first LPGA victory.

Not to worry, says her teacher and swing coach, Butch Harmon. Harmon is a tough guy when he has to be. But at the moment he sees the glass as half full for Gulbis.

The thing that pleases me the most about Natalie is that in the tournaments in which she has been close, someone else has won, Harmon says. She hasnt lost them.

Shes playing very well. Im pleased with her progress. And I think she will win multiple times this year.

Gulbis posted seven top-10s in 2006 and finished No. 16 on the money list. The big problem was with the driver. The stats dont lie. Gulbis wound up tied for 54th in fairways in regulation and tied for 77th in driving distance.

She has to hit it farther, Harmon says.

Meanwhile, he adds, Natalies also still learning how to best manage her time. Shes a very popular young lady.

Time management, Harmon said, was one of Greg Normans strengths. Harmon learned from former pupil Greg Norman and imparted many of Normans time management skills to Tiger Woods when that pair famously worked together.

Normans daughter, Morgan-Leigh, by the way, is the one dating Garcia these days.


Speaking of which, Arron Oberholser, who is hoping to defend his title at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am next month, recently became engaged to LPGA player Angie Rizzo.

Oberholser is 31. Rizzo is 28.

Oberholsers people, by the way, say the back problem that forced him to withdraw from the Mercedes-Benz Championship last week is not serious.

Didnt it seem like more?

Brett Wetterich
Brett Wetterich hit the longest drive of the week at the Mercedes, 437 yards.
The final numbers from Kapalua were 12 drives of 400 yards or longer by the field for the week.

Knowing that the USGA, golf in Americas regulating rules body, pays close attention to this sort of thing, I inquired as to whether this golf ball bashing raised any eyebrows at its New Jersey headquarters.

And I was informed by Dick Rugge, the USGAs Senior Technical Director, that the corresponding 400-yard drive number was 13 last year and up into the 70s at the 2004 event at Kapalua.

So, no. No eyebrows raised.

The average driving distance at this event was 255.1 yards, Rugge observed. Last year it was 255.4. This 10-inch decrease from last year isnt going to move my needle too much, he said.

But remember, Rugge added, that this is only one event'it takes plenty more before we can spot any trend changes or be able to confirm that there are no trend changes.

The early favorite for Rookie of the Year, in the minds of many experts, is Anthony Kim. Kim, 21, also happens to be the youngest rookie on the PGA TOUR. The oldest rookie is 47-year-old Canadian Jim Rutledge.

Rutledge says one of his biggest challenges will be adjusting, on the fly, to all the new courses. Taking these golf courses and breaking them down as quickly as humanly possible because of the short time I have to do that, he said.

The smartest pick for Rookie of the Year?

Swedens Henrik Stenson.

Stenson won $582,303 on the PGA TOUR last year and is now a special temporary member which makes him a rookie off the 2006 Non-Member Money List category.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

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."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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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."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

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."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''