A Tale of Two Deserts

By Brian HewittFebruary 5, 2007, 5:00 pm
There are big sandy stages. And there are Bigger Sandy Stages.
Aaron Baddeley missed the cut at the FBR Open in 2003. And 2005. And 2006. And he tied for 49th there in 2004.
He won there Sunday.
Aaron Baddeley
Aaron Baddeley reacts to his second PGA TOUR victory. (WireImage)
So much for horses for courses (or should that be camels for oases?) Anyway, go figure. And while youre at it, riddle me this: When will the real Phil Mickelson arrive?
In Arizona last week, Mickelson missed the cut. Its not the start that I want to the year, said Mickelson, who hasnt scored a top-10 since coughing up the U.S. Open like it was a fur ball last June at Winged Foot.
For his part, Baddeley putted like Crenshaw in his prime at the TPC of Scottsdale (nine one-putts in a row Thursday). And he drove it like Norman in his prime (long and straight).
Yet none of his heroics -- Sunday birdies on 15, 16 and 17 -- or Jeff Quinneys bitterly-disappointing late Sunday failings -- bogeys on 17 and 18 -- or the cauldron of noise that is the par 3 16th, measured up to what the big boys delivered in another desert halfway across the world.
The PGA TOUR is still the major leagues of golf. Week in and week out it is must see TV. Know anybody who belongs to a fantasy golf league for the European Tour?
But the European Tour, at least for one week, turned out to be more compelling drama probably because Tiger dueled Ernie and both lost when Henrik Stenson, the best underappreciated player in the world, got up and down on the 72nd hole to capture first prize.
If youre a European Tour regular on Golf Channel, you know what Im referencing here. There was a 15-minute period in the middle of Sundays back nine at Dubai that was as dramatic as it gets. First, Woods, called The Tiger by Euro anchor Renton Laidlaw, fatted a 3-wood on the 10th hole en route to a bogey. Then on 11, he mis-hit a short chip shot that responded by dribbling into a greenside bunker. Another bogey.
I have now, said Laidlaws sidekick, Warren Humphreys, seen absolutely everything.
Moments later, Els, valiantly chasing Stenson despite going 3 over par for the day early in his final round, holed a bunker shot on 14 for a birdie. AIR-knee-else, Laidlaw exclaimed.
Stenson responded with a lengthy birdie putt on the same hole to regain sole possession of the lead. And soon after that here was The Tiger chipping in on the 15th hole for his third straight birdie.
It was all wonderful stuff. And it made Stenson, who like Baddeley, drives it long and straight and putts pretty well, too, a player to watch in the run-up to the Masters Tournament in April, where he missed the cut in his first appearance last year.
I might not feel that I played my absolute best but it was fairly solid, Stenson said afterward.
Fairly solid, indeed, for the Swede who was grouped with Els all four days and reckoned it was the first time he had won a tournament in which the redoubtable Woods was entered.
Meanwhile, back in America where John Rollins has quietly charged to the top of the FedExCup point standings, the glass was both half empty and half full for Quinney, who has held at least a share of the lead in three events this year while winning none of them. After making only one bogey in his first 36 holes at FBR, he said this: I dont really dwell on bogeys.
But it will be hard not to do so after bogeying the 71st and 72nd holes in Arizona.
For his part, Baddeley moved up 46 places on the world rankings to No. 44. I want to be the best, he said. ... its a long way to go yet.
Stenson is much closer. He advanced four spots in those same rankings and now sits at No. 10. He is now the 65th player since the Official World Golf Ranking began 21 years ago to reach the top 10.
To Stenson, who resides now in Dubai, it must feel like an oasis.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.


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.

Getty Images

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

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."