Cejka opens the lead at Players - COPIED

By Doug FergusonMay 8, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The PlayersPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Alex Cejka ran off three straight birdies Friday morning and kept right on going, shooting 5-under 67 to build a four-shot lead midway through the second round of The Players Championship.
 
Tiger Woods was among the late starters in steaming conditions at the TPC Sawgrass, but perhaps the most daunting sight was seeing the 38-year-old Cejka at 11-under 133 and no one particularly close.
 
Kevin Na, who played with Cejka before no more than a few dozen people most of the round, tried to make up ground and had a 66 to finish in the group at 7-under 137, along with Jason Dufner (70) and Masters champion Angel Cabrera, who had a 65.
 
It was surprising to see Cejka atop the leaderboard, and he would be the first to concede that. Still recovering from surgery to replace a disk in his neck last year, he felt numbness in his right arm and had an epidural last week to regain some feeling.
 
Then again, numbness isnt a bad way to go around a scary course like Sawgrass.
 
Im pretty excited to sit here two days in a row, Cejka said.
 
Phil Mickelson was hopeful to be playing for two more days. He struggled with his putting most of the round and shot a 1-under 71, making birdie on his final hole to finish at even-par 144, right on the bubble for making the cut.
 
You never want to give up here, because too many things can happen on this golf course, Mickelson said.
 
Cejka first joined the PGA Tour in 2003, a year after his last official victory, at the Lancome Trophy on the European Tour.
 
Few players faced such a peculiar journey to become a touring pro.
 
Born in Czechoslovakia, he was 9 when he fled communism and traveled through four countries before settling in Germany, not known as fertile soil for golf. But he took interest in the game, especially after watching Bernhard Langer win the Masters in 1985.
 
Among his victories in Europe was the prestigious Volvo Masters, so Cejka knows he can handle the pressure. The greater concern has been his health, especially the scary moments of losing feeling in his arm.
 
He first injured his neck while lifting luggage at the British Open last year, and it got so bad that he had surgery to insert a titanium plate between the fifth and sixth vertebrae in his neck. He showed off the small scar at the front of his neck, where doctors made the incision to avoid cutting through muscles in the back.
 
After the surgery, everything was fine until I woke up one day and it was just number. It was just inflamed, irritated, he said. So that was kind of a shock for me. Ive been recovering pretty well so far. They think its going to take a couple weeks, a couple months. Nerves dont heal that well.
 
Despite clear skies and temperatures headed for the 90s late in the afternoon, the crowds were sparser than usual, especially around Cejka, in the second tee time of the day. When he got up-and-down for birdie on the second hole, there were 14 spectators around the green, along with 13 marshals.
 
It felt like a Monday afternoon practice round, Cejka said. Ive never seen it actually that empty here over the past years. But it was kind of nice. We were just walking and talking and making good shots. But I think its going to change on the weekend.
 
Cabreras even-par 72 in the opening round featured eagles, birdies and triple bogeys, but the big Argentine finally got the driver straightened out and had a much easier time Friday.
 
The putter has been behaving, too. Cabrera has taken only 52 putts through two rounds.
 
It really comes down to the tee shots, he said through a PGA Tour interpreter. Yesterday, I just wasnt getting it off the tee in the appropriate spots. Today I did that well, and youll see the difference in my score.
 
Ben Crane, the first-round leader, had a 73 and was at 138, followed by a large group at 5-under 139 that included Camilo Villegas (72), Paul Casey (69), Robert Allenby (66) and Kevin Sutherland (67).
 

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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

    Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

    As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

    Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.