Notes: World No. 51 is no place to be

By Doug FergusonFebruary 20, 2013, 2:03 am

MARANA, Ariz. – The road to the Masters starts in Marana. At least for some European Tour members.

Alex Noren arrived at the Match Play Championship at No. 51 in the world, and when he says this is a big week, he has more than just this tournament on his mind.

The ultimate goal is to be in the top 50 on March 31 to get into the Masters. But there figures to be a lot of movement in the coming weeks, and Noren needs to make sure he gets as many chances as possible. This is where it gets tough on the Swede and a few other international players like him.

The top 50 in the world after the Match Play are eligible for the next World Golf Championship in two weeks at Doral. So if Noren doesn't at least get by Dustin Johnson in the opening round, the Swede won't get another chance at picking up big ranking points. He is not a PGA Tour member and thus is not in the Honda Classic.

''I've got to win a few matches to keep in the top 50,'' Noren said. ''I'm trying to play good tournaments.''

Noren probably won't get much sympathy from American-based players, especially those who didn't qualify for the Match Play. One reason international players have an advantage for this WGC event is the timing. After the Tour season is over, Europe had big events in Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai. It began this year with strong events in places like Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai.

The cutoff for the Match Play was a week after Dubai.

For the next two months in Europe, the pickings are slim when it comes to ranking points. A year ago, the strongest field in Europe from Doral through its flagship BMW PGA Championship at Europe was the Malaysian Open, which awarded 36 points to the winner. Malaysia has moved this year opposite Bay Hill, and the field is likely to suffer. Louis Oosthuizen is not going back to defend.

So it's make-or-break time for guys like Noren, Shane Lowry (68), Stephen Gallacher (56) and Marcus Fraser of Australia, who is No. 54.

And while the Match Play typically offers 74 points to the winner, keep in mind that everybody in the top 64 is at Dove Mountain (except Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker), so winning a match or even two matches is not likely to make up much ground.

Chris Wood is at No. 59, but he is likely to get into Doral from being among the top 10 on the European Tour's money list. Ditto for Richard Sterne, who is No. 57. Fraser gets into Doral from the Asian Tour money list.

Still, they can't just show up. Those fields are stacked.

''I need to play well these few weeks,'' Fraser said. ''If I can play well, I'll have a chance.''

Fourteen of the 64 players at Dove Mountain are not in the Masters. Of that group, only one is an American – Charles Howell III, who grew up in Augusta.


THE ALTERNATE: It took Bernd Wiesberger some 18 hours to travel from his home in Austria to the high desert of Dove Mountain, a journey that might have felt a lot shorter if only his wedge would have stayed on the 18th green at Dubai.

Wiesberger, a two-time winner on the European Tour last year, was in the middle of the pack at the Dubai Desert Classic, when his wedge to the par-5 18th spun off the green and into the water – twice. Instead of par, he made a 9. Instead of getting some world ranking points, he got none. And that kept him from being ranked ahead of Shane Lowry and Fredrik Jacobson, when the field was set for the Match Play Championship.

Instead, he was the first alternate.

''Vienna to Washington was nine-and-a-half hours,'' Wiesberger said Monday night on the range at Dove Mountain. ''Three-hour layover and five hours to here. It was a chance worth taking. Otherwise, I'd be covered in snow.''

He still lives in Austria, a central base for travel, and the weather is not an issue because he's on the road so much. He came out to California in December and played in San Diego and Palm Springs just to stay sharp.

If anyone withdraws, Wiesberger will take that spot in the bracket. There doesn't appear to be any candidates to drop out.

''Even in the worst case, it's not a terrible thing to do,'' Wiesberger said of his long trip. ''It's a beautiful place. Hopefully, I'll get in and play well. Otherwise, I'll go back to Europe. I'm hitting it well right now. If I can get in, you never know.''

The stakes are high. This would be his only chance to get into Doral and keep alive his hopes of cracking the top 50 to get into the Masters.


TRAVELING ADVICE: For those who have never had to cross oceans and multiple time zones, Padraig Harrington has some advice.

Make sure you keep working. You'll catch up on sleep soon enough.

''It's harder when you go home and you don't have a time schedule to stick to,'' he said. ''One night's sleep deprivation has no effect on performance whatsoever. Two nights is extremely detrimental. So I know no matter how bad I sleep or how bad I feel, I can get through a round of golf. If it's really bad, it just means you have to maybe curtail practice and catch up on your sleep.''

Go to the gym.

''That's probably one of the keys,'' he said. ''We'll all wake ourselves up by going to the gym.''

He also mentioned stayed properly hydrated and eating proper foods. But his greatest piece of advice? Leave the television off.

''If you wake up in the middle of the night, you're wide awake, do not put on the television,'' Harrington said. ''That's the golden rule. Just lie there. Look at the four walls. But the minute you put on the television, that's it. You ain't ever getting back to sleep.''


DIVOTS: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that CordeValle Golf Club is in line to get the 2016 U.S. Women's Open. It would be the first U.S. Women's Open in California since 1982. CordeValle has hosted the Frys.com Open on the PGA Tour the last three years. ... Andrew Coltart, a two-time winner on the European Tour who played in the '99 Ryder Cup at Brookline, has been selected as Europe's coach for the Palmer Cup the next two years. The Palmer Cup is matches between American and European college players. ... Sony Open winner Russell Henley began his rookie season with nine of 10 rounds in the 60s. He has failed to break par his last four rounds. ... Jeff Maggert (1999) and Darren Clarke (2000) are the only players to beat the No. 1 seed on their way to winning the Match Play Championship. ... Dave Thomas, a four-time Ryder Cup player and renowned course designer, has been awarded Honorary Life Membership on the European Tour.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The top four players from the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour are not at the Match Play Championship.


FINAL WORD: ''Stay confident, trust what it is you've been working hard to do, and never, ever, ever tell yourself you're in bad form.'' – Ian Poulter, on the key to overcoming a bad stretch of golf in match play.

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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.


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."

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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.

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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

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."