Getty Images

Leishman goes bogey-free, co-leads at Kapalua

By Doug FergusonJanuary 6, 2018, 4:47 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii - Marc Leishman played bogey-free and was tied for the lead in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Just don't get the idea this is another example of an Australian doing well at Kapalua because he stayed sharp Down Under in December.

Leishman two-putted for birdie on the par-5 18th for a 4-under 69, giving him a share of the lead with Brian Harman (68) going into the weekend on the windy Plantation Course with 15 players separated by five shots.

Stuart Appleby once won three straight years at Kapalua. Geoff Ogilvy is the last player to win back-to-back. Both arrived in Maui having competed in either the Australian Masters, Australian Open or Australian PGA. Appleby did all three one year.

Leishman?

He's played one time in the last 10 weeks. Well, one tournament, anyway.

''I went to Topgolf a couple of weeks ago,'' Leishman said.

It was too cold to practice at his home in Virginia Beach, so he headed to the multi-tiered golf complex where points are scored for hitting at various targets, all while having a few beers and listening to live entertainment. Thankfully, he didn't take his tour bag, just a half-dozen clubs in a tiny carry bag.

''I scored all right,'' he said. ''I remember the first time I went there, I didn't realize there was a leaderboard at the front desk. I scored really high, and then all of a sudden all the people turn around and I'm having a couple of beers, just having fun.''

One patron said to him, ''You're pretty good with the tools.''

He has been pretty good in windy conditions at Kapalua. Leishman didn't make as many birdies as he would have liked. His only one on the par 5s was the final hole. Even so, he joined Harman at 10-under 136 going into the weekend of this winners-only event.

Harman came on strong on the back nine, and picked up his third birdie in unlikely fashion. He was down the steep slope right of the green on the par-5 15th, and his first chip barely reached the green and rolled back down the hill. He chipped that one in for birdie, and then picked up his fifth birdie of the back nine on the 18th.


Full-field scores from the Sentry Tournament of Champions

Sentry Tournament of Champions: Articles, photos and videos


Dustin Johnson, with more experience than anyone at Kapalua, overcame a sluggish start for a 68 and was one shot behind, making him perhaps the strongest threat going into the final two rounds.

Johnson is making his eighth appearance at the Tournament of Champions. No one else in the 34-man field has played more three times. His 68 was the 19th time in 29 rounds that the world's No. 1 player has shot in the 60s, and he has yet to have a round over par.

This was a challenge, at least early.

The wind laid down on his shot into No. 3, and it went long into fluffy rough, leaving him a downhill, downwind putt with the grain. He chipped that 30 feet by and made bogey. On the next hole, he caught a gust and made another bogey. On the par-5 fifth, he had a 7-iron for his second shot and made par.

And then he made seven birdies over the last 14 holes to get within one shot of the lead.

Pat Perez and Chris Stroud each shot 66, while Jhonattan Vegas had a 70. They were two shots behind.

Back in the mix was Jordan Spieth, who opened with a 75. Spieth didn't have a lot going his way early with a poor club selection on the par-3 second hole and one that was even worse on the par-5 fifth. Spieth went into the hazard with this second shot and took bogey on the second-easiest scoring hole at Kapalua.

And then he couldn't miss.

He has been working on his putting, trying to get it back to 2015 standards, and he walked in an 18-footer at No. 6 and knew his 12-footer at No. 8 was going to fall even before he stroked the putt.

''That's a feeling I haven't had in quite a while with the putter,'' he said. ''So a big step forward. A lot of progress today.''

Spieth chipped in for eagle from 70 feet on No. 9 and shot 66 to get within five shots of the lead.

Defending champion Justin Thomas a step back. He hit one too many wayward shots and had a 41 on the back nine for a 75, dropping him 10 shots out of the lead.

The biggest challenge was putting in the gusts, especially on the greens high on the hill that are exposed.

''You've got grain, break, speed, wind. Very difficult,'' Perez said. ''I had trouble with all of them yesterday. Today, I was able to see more of the break. I was able to get the speed and the wind all together. It took me a full day. But it was good.''

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.