Torrey Pines shines less without Woods

By Doug FergusonJanuary 24, 2012, 9:59 pm

SAN DIEGO—Tiger Woods and Torrey Pines used to be a winning combination.

Except for his first full season on the PGA Tour, Woods never missed what used to be called the Buick Invitational, the same brand that happened to be on his golf bag. He not only won six times, his worst finish was a tie for 10th, when he finished two shots out of a playoff.

Woods winning at Torrey was so predictable that in 2008, when the public course along the Pacific Ocean was to host the U.S. Open that summer, he opened with a 67 on the South Course. A caddie watching from behind the 18th green said, “He just won two tournaments with one round.” And he was right.

Times have changed.

Woods can be found 12 time zones away this week in Abu Dhabi, where he joined the rest of the European Tour stars.

This will be the third time in the last four years that Woods will not be at Torrey Pines to start his season. He was recovering from knee surgery in 2009, and he was in a Mississippi clinic in 2010. A year ago, still in the early stages of revamping his swing, he couldn’t break par on the weekend and tied for 44th.

His absence is an example of how little it takes for the landscape to evolve on the PGA Tour, which can have more to do with the tournaments than the players they try to attract.

Woods has his own agenda, and he has that right.

He is getting a $1.5 million appearance fee at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and while that’s about half what he used to get, the practice dates to the era of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. In this case, Woods has a relationship with the title sponsor, which supports his foundation. Woods has been mixing golf with business as long as he’s been on tour, and he’s not alone.

Torrey Pines is still the first PGA Tour event on network television. It’s still a pretty place to be. But it is lacking luster, and that would have been unfathomable just four years ago.

That it follows the Humana Challenge only illustrates how quickly the perception of tournaments can change—good and bad.

The Humana Challenge no longer has Bob Hope in the name of the tournament, but that beats having no hope at all. Such was the case only a few years ago when it was considered to be on life support. It had no title sponsor. Phil Mickelson, the star attraction, stopped playing when the event tried new courses such as the Classic Club, which was anything but that.

Humana came on board, along with former president Bill Clinton, creating a platform to preach good health. The bigger change was reducing the event from five rounds to four, the rotation from four courses to three, the format from three amateurs to two.

It was a smash hit.

Mickelson returned. So did Greg Norman, mainly to play the third round with Clinton. The field strength was nearly double what it had been in recent years.

A half-dozen other PGA Tour events can appreciate the turnaround.

The Houston Open used to be a few weeks after the Masters, which one magazine referred to as “No Man’s Land.” It was a dead time in golf, between the Masters and late May when focus shifts to the next major.

“The historical weakness of our player field had become such a topic that we were continually working to overcome that in the local market, much less with the national perception,” tournament director Steve Timms said.

Opportunity didn’t so much knock as it tapped on the door.

Atlanta wanted out of its date before the Masters because of bad weather (and because Woods doesn’t play that week). The Players Championship moved from March to May.

The Houston Open took the date, not knowing if it would work. Then, Augusta National went back to offering a spot in the Masters to PGA Tour winners, and Houston no longer had a problem—it had an identity.

It was the last chance to get into the Masters. That coincided with a surge in Europeans, many of whom play Houston to get ready for the Masters. The tournament did its part by trying to create course conditions to help players prepare for Augusta.

The Honda Classic felt like it was that “other” event in Florida—stuck behind Doral, right before Bay Hill and The Players. Then it settled on a solid course (PGA National), The Players moved to May and Doral became a World Golf Championship. That means there are two WGCs in a three-week span, with Honda in the middle.

Now it gets Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, among international stars, and is likely to get Woods, who has moved to the area.

The Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., also was on the ropes. It had been in that dead zone after the Masters, and when Chrysler was the sponsor, the company preferred being in the fall to coincide with the auto shows.

The tournament made some changes on its own—a new board of directors, moving to Sedgefield Country Club, a new title sponsor and a new date—the week after the PGA Championship and before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin. It now is the last chance for players to qualify for the playoffs or improve their position and last year attracted the likes of Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk.

“All those things were the right move,” tournament director Mark Brazil said. “We’ve seen '09 better than '08, '10 better than '09, and '11 way better than '10 from a field perspective. It’s still a challenging date, but it’s starting to work.”

The John Deere Classic has settled into a date the week before the British Open. The Barclays took the opening playoff event and boasts the strongest and deepest field this side of the majors and The Players. It also has a great rotation of courses.

As for Torrey Pines?

Abu Dhabi very well could be a one-year agreement with Woods. He might be back next year.

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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

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."