New year, same old mission for Scott

By Doug FergusonJanuary 2, 2014, 8:09 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Amid the chatter of holidays and college football, Adam Scott already was hard at work on the far end of the range at Kapalua.

He finished up a jumbo-sized bucket of balls by hitting some 20 shots with a 5-iron, turning the green turf into a square patch of brown with each divot. Scott never seemed satisfied. His only conversation with Brad Malone, his swing coach and brother-in-law, was whether he was set properly at the top of his swing.

''No time for a break,'' he said when he was done, his tanned face dripping with sweat.

It's almost as though last year never ended, and Scott would love that to be the case.

His plan to play less and gear his game more toward the majors paid off in a big way when Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters. And he didn't stop there. He had the outright lead on the back nine of the British Open until tying for third. He was on the fringe of Sunday contention at the PGA Championship and tied for fifth. And then he won the toughest FedEx Cup playoff event, twice more in Australia and captured the team portion of the World Cup with Jason Day.

Scott ended the year at No. 2 in the world, closer to the top than he has ever been. On Thursday, the Golf Writers Association of America announced he had won its male player of the year in a narrow race – five votes – against Tiger Woods.


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Now for the encore.

''My goal is to win majors – and now I can say 'majors' and not just one,'' Scott said with a smile. ''I think I'm heading in the right direction. I don't want to change too much from last year.''

The start of the new year is more like the end of a long stretch for Scott.

He is among the favorites when the Hyundai Tournament of Champions gets underway Friday on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, part of a 30-man field comprised only of players who won on the PGA Tour last year.

Dustin Johnson is the defending champion. Only nine players are back from last year at Kapalua, a testament to how much tougher it is getting to win on the PGA Tour, and the field features 13 players who won for the first time. It no longer is the season-opening event because the new PGA Tour schedule actually began in October, so this is the seventh tournament of the season.

But it still feels like Kapalua always did – a fresh start, loaded with some of the best scenery and no shortage of optimism.

''It's like the first day of school,'' Zach Johnson said.

Scott didn't take much of a break after his runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy in the Australian Open. He put the clubs away for 10 days and went at it hard in practice last week. After two weeks in Hawaii, he'll disappear for six weeks, not resurfacing until the Honda Classic that kicks off the Florida swing.

But there is a drive to keep pushing, to keep improving bit by bit. He proved that last year after winning the Masters and refusing to contemplate any kind of celebration until he returned home to Australia.

''I'm happy with how it all worked out between Brad, Steve (Williams) and myself,'' he said. ''It's the kind of plans we worked on, that after such a big high in April to not live off winning the Masters for the rest of the year, or the rest of your life. To keep pushing and keep my golf advancing. By the end of the year, I took my game that tiny, half-step further from where I was when I won a major. It's just getting a little bit better, which is important if I want to achieve everything I ever wanted.''

Next on the horizon is a shot at No. 1, even if that's not part of the plan.

Woods has an average ranking of 11.69, while Scott is at 9.60. And because both play no more than 20 events a year, he's not far off. There was a time when Woods was on one of his big runs that reaching the top of the world ranking looked impossible to Scott.

''I don't think I can set a schedule to focus on being No. 1 in the world,'' he said. ''It can only be a byproduct of everything else I do. It's no small feat. The guy who's had a stronghold on it for a long time doesn't like giving that spot up much. I mean, look, for 10 years it wasn't even a consideration. He was just playing at another level. But it's such a long career. He's going to play at a level that no one ever has for that long.

''But he has different levels of being No. 1, and this is just slightly different,'' Scott said. ''And the game has changed a bit. He's still No. 1. It's a hard spot to get to. Maybe if I play like I have for another 12 months, I might sneak in there. But it's not something I can focus on.''

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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

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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.

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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."