Steve Stricker among trio of leaders at Deutsche Bank

By Doug FergusonSeptember 7, 2009, 4:00 am
DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. – Steve Stricker was among eight players who had at least a share of the lead Sunday in the Deutsche Bank Championship. He also knew how much each shot mattered.

Standing in the 18th fairway, a stiff breeze in his face and the front of the green 230 yards away, about 5 yards longer than the maximum distance he usually gets out of his hybrid. He went for it anyway, and it paid off.

He was filled with uncertainty until the ball barely cleared a creek and bounced up to 5 feet for eagle, giving Stricker a 6-under 65 and a share of the lead with Retief Goosen and Sean O’Hair.

“I maxed that one out, and it turned out good,” Stricker said.

His chances to win on Labor Day are equally tenuous.

Sean O
Sean O'Hair birdied 18 Sunday to reclaim a share of the lead. (Getty Images)

Stricker has the goods; he already has won twice this year and finished one shot behind last week at The Barclays. Even so, there are two other guys tied for the lead who have won this year, and simply too many players within range for anyone to get a handle on how Monday will shake out at the TPC Boston.

O’Hair overcame a scratchy start with birdies on two of the last three holes for a 70. Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, had a chance to take the outright lead until a chunky bunker shot that kept him from getting up-and-down for birdie at the par-5 18th. He settled for a 68 to join the other leaders at 13-under 200.

“I needed a day like this today to get back into it,” Stricker said.

Just about everyone else – except Tiger Woods – apparently had the same idea.

Woods struggled from the opening shot. He hit driver into the woods for a one-shot penalty, didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole and shot 1-over 72. That left him nine shots behind in a tie for 30th. Woods did not speak to reporters, going to the locker room to have his back stretched before heading to the putting green.

The gallery still has a rooting favorite among those trying to win. Padraig Harrington, cheered wildly in a region with a large Irish population, knocked in a long birdie putt at the 18th for a 67 and was among those one shot behind, along with Scott Verplank (68) and Kevin Na (66).

“There’s a saying, ‘There’s 5 million people in Ireland and 40 million in the States,’ and I think those 40 million people live in Boston,” Harrington said. “There’s great support here. When you get people supporting you, you do feed off it and try to go with it, and it’s certainly helped me over the last three days.”

Jim Furyk, who had a share of the 36-hole lead with O’Hair, slumped to a 73 yet still was in the hunt. He was at 10-under 203.

No one stands out as the obvious favorite. All of them share one goal.

“You know someone is going to shoot a good score tomorrow,” Kevin Sutherland said after a 69 that put him in the group two shots behind. “You just need to be the guy who does it.”

Stricker had a chance to take over the top spot from Woods in the FedEx Cup last week in The Barclays until he missed a 10-foot par putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff with Heath Slocum.

He’ll get another opportunity Monday, in small part to his bold play on the 18th.

“The only thing I had going for me is I had a little bit of a downhill lie that would keep the ball down a little bit,” Stricker said. “I hit it solid and it landed three or four paces short and just got up there very nicely.”

The top 70 advance to the third round of the PGA Tour Playoffs next week in Chicago, and Stricker has the best chance to overtake Woods atop the FedEx Cup standings. All he cares about is this week, which might be even more confusing than the points-based cup.

The winner can come from just about anywhere.

“I don’t expect guys like Stricker and Harrington and Goosen … to fall backwards, that’s for sure,” O’Hair said. “I don’t know how low you’re going to have to go, but you’re still going to have to have a nice round of golf. If I go out there and focus on me and get comfortable on the first tee and not take four or five holes to get going, I should be right there at the end.”

That wasn’t the case Sunday in sunshine and a mild breeze that was strong enough for players to continuously toss blades of grass in the air to figure out which way it was blowing.

O’Hair took three shots from 20 feet just short of the green at No. 1, hooked his tee shot on the par-3 third for another bogey and chopped up the par-5 seventh, quickly falling out of contention. That was his last bogey, however, and he had a strong finishing kick.

Even a player like Geoff Ogilvy, who birdied his last two holes for a 68 to finish four shots behind, was not ruling himself out. The four shots is not the issue. Perhaps a larger obstacle is the 12 guys in front of him.

“It’s the people,” Ogilvy said. “Six back and second place is probably better than being four back and in 20th place.”

The wind and firm greens made this the toughest day yet. Even after the cut was made (weeding out players not at their best), the average score was at 71.15, the first time all week it has played over par.

Even so, 29 players broke par.

“The guys managed to get it in the hole somehow,” Goosen said. “I’m happy to be on top of the leaderboard, and I hope for a good tomorrow and see where we stand.”

Woods attributed so many missed chances at Liberty National on putts that often broke multiple times before reaching the hole. He worked some on his short game during his three days at home, no more than usual.

“I really putted well on the weekend, I just didn’t make a lot of putts,” he said. “When you’re lipping out a lot of putts, you’re not putting poorly. Those greens were a tough read for a bunch of people.”

Woods has a hard time finding much fault with anything this year, except for not winning a major. His five victories are twice as much as anyone else, and he still holds the No. 1 stop in the FedEx Cup standings going into the second week of the playoffs.

The big surprise is Heath Slocum, who was planning a trip to Switzerland this week for the Omega Masters on the European Tour until he won last week at Liberty National. That moved him from second-to-last place at No. 124 to No. 3, right behind Woods and Stricker.

Players have been debating whether Slocum earned too many points, and they tried to balance his rocket rise with the notion that he did beat a field at The Barclays that included the top 124 players on the PGA Tour.

The top 100 qualified for the Deutsche Bank (minus Paul Casey, who is injured), and that number will be pared to the top 70 players in points going to the third round next week at the BMW Championship outside Chicago.

Woods is virtually a lock to at least contest for the $10 million prize that comes with the FedEx Cup, especially the way he has played over the last two months—two victories, two runner-up finishes.

“This last stretch, I think I’ve hit the ball pretty good,” Woods said. “I’ve putted well in stretches. Some people have alluded to other things, but that’s not too bad for my last four events. The overall year has been very consistent.”

He missed the FedEx Cup playoffs last year recovering from knee surgery. The last time he played the Deutsche Bank was in 2007, when he tied for second, four shots behind Phil Mickelson. Woods took nine more putts than Mickelson that day.

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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."