McIlroy makes eight birdies to lead WGC-HSBC

By Doug FergusonOctober 31, 2013, 5:45 pm

SHANGHAI – The graceful combination of power and balance. The bounce in his step after every birdie. His name at the top of the leaderboard. For at least one round, Rory McIlroy finally looked like the former No. 1 player in the world instead of a guy who hasn't won a tournament all year.

With eight birdies and hardly any stress, McIlroy opened the HSBC Champions on Thursday with a 7-under 65 for a two-shot lead over Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Jamie Donaldson. It was the first time since he won in Dubai last November that McIlroy has been in the outright lead after any round.

''It felt good to be out there and in control of my golf ball,'' McIlroy said.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that McIlroy's only win of any variety was earlier this week at Mission Hills when he rallied to beat Tiger Woods in an 18-hole exhibition. That didn't hurt his confidence, though the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland pointed to other factors that have been leading him in this direction.

He took a four-week break, spending most of that time in Northern Ireland with swing coach Michael Bannon and ''getting back to what we used to do.'' He has a new driver and a golf ball that is softer, giving him more spin around the greens.

And perhaps most importantly, he hasn't lost his mind or his patience during the most difficult season of his young career.

''It's obviously frustrating when you've had a couple of seasons previous where you've had success, and not being able to emulate that,'' he said. ''The way I look at it, if I have a 25-year career, nine months isn't actually that long. I wouldn't say 'restless,' but obviously there's a point in time where you're thinking to yourself, 'Right, come on, let's get this back on track.' But I've tried to stay as patient as possible.''


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More patience is required against a strong field at Sheshan International for this World Golf Championship.

Fernandez-Castano is coming off his first win of the year last week at the BMW Masters. The group at 4-under 68 included U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, former Masters champion Bubba Watson and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, playing as though last season never ended. Another shot behind were Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and Graeme McDowell, who remains second on the European Tour money list with hopes of catching Henrik Stenson.

The timing was crucial for McIlroy.

Not only has he failed to win a tournament, he is at No. 62 in the Race to Dubai with only two tournaments remaining to get into the top 60 and qualify for the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai. McIlroy won the money title a year ago.

''It's only 18 holes. It's only one round of golf,'' McIlroy said. ''But it's definitely the way I wanted and needed to start, keeping in mind that I obviously want to play myself into Dubai and try to pick up my first win of the season, as well.''

British Open champion Phil Mickelson had a chance to join McIlroy in the lead until it all went wrong. One shot behind with two holes to play, Mickelson hit two wedges into the water fronting the par-5 eighth green and took a quadruple-bogey 9. His second wedge landed some 30 feet beyond the pin and had so much spin that it raced off the green and down the bank into the water.

He hit another shot into the water on No. 9, and followed that with a brave shot to 2 feet to escape with only a bogey. He fell back to a 71.

Spieth, who went from no status at the start of the year to a spot in the Presidents Cup and No. 20 in the world, didn't arrive until Monday and has been battling jet lag this week after his first trip to China. He was 2-over through eight holes, and then played 6-under the rest of the way, as if last season never ended.

''I didn't really know what to expect out of the game this week, traveling over here and limited practice,'' he said. ''But maybe it was good for me. My caddie helped me stay calm and stay positive, and once the putts started going in, we were just in our normal routine.''

But this day ultimately was about McIlroy.

McIlroy hit a 3-wood just over the back of the par-4 16th hole and chipped to 3 feet for birdie. His 3-iron from light rough was about 20 yards short of the green on the par-5 18th, and he chipped to 5 feet for birdie. And on the par-5 second hole, another 3-iron from the rough left him 30 yards short, and he pitched that to 6 feet for birdie. The other birdie during that stretch was on No. 1, his only tee shot off line. From the rough, his 9-iron from 160 yards covered the flag and settled about 7 feet away.

''It's just learning from each week and just trying to put the pieces together,'' McIlroy said. ''A little bit of confidence from Monday, of course, but I think it was these two previous weeks just getting back into competitive play and learning what I needed to do to improve and sort of work on those things coming into this week.''

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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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

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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.


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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."

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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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.