A year after meeting Tiger, Lahiri on the rise

By Doug FergusonFebruary 27, 2015, 9:26 pm

The best golfer in India played before an enormous gallery with the kind of buzz that is rare for his country. Anirban Lahiri wound up the winner, a day he won't forget.

Except that he wasn't the star that day.

Tiger Woods was in town.

Lahiri and Shiv Kapur, who played college golf at Purdue, were asked to play a three-hole skins game at the end of an exhibition at Delhi Golf Club. Lahiri started playing golf about the time Woods won his first Masters, and Woods became a golfing hero.

''Meeting him in person, he had a strong, positive aura about him,'' Lahiri said in a telephone interview from his home in Bangladore. ''It was nice to interact with him and pick his brain and get some perspective how he goes about his golf. He's been an idol growing up, a larger than life figure.''

That was a year ago, and the 27-year-old Lahiri could not have imagined how much would change since then.

Lahiri will be at Doral next week for his first World Golf Championship in America. Woods, who was No. 1 in the world when he played the exhibition in India, didn't qualify. Back surgery, a change in swing coaches and poor play has dropped him to No. 70 in the world.

Lahiri, the son of an Army doctor, won the Malaysian Open for his first European Tour victory. Two weeks later, he won the Hero Indian Open that effectively locked up a spot in the Masters. He will be only the second Indian to compete at Augusta National.

He is No. 34 in the world - just ahead of Brandt Snedeker and Ian Poulter - and is No. 5 in the Presidents Cup standings. Not bad for a guy who only a few months ago was in Q-school trying to get his European Tour card.

''He's pretty talented,'' said Arjun Atwal, who grew up in Calcutta and remains the only Indian to win on the PGA Tour. ''He's a lot more mature than 27. He's got this thing about him that when he wins, it wants to win the next one. I haven't seen that in as many players.''

As much attention as Woods brought to India last year in a paid exhibition with the head of Hero Motor, players like Lahiri, Singh and Atwal can have a profound effect on a golfing nation still in its infancy. Lahiri remembers Atwal winning the Indian Open when it was part of the Asian Tour. To see someone like Singh become the first European Tour winner from India, to make three appearances in the Masters and reach as high as No. 29 in the world, is inspiring.

''It's always about doing what these guys have done,'' Lahiri said. ''Play in the majors. Play in America. Try to win globally. And make Indian golf more recognizable.''

This will take time, though Lahiri has a chance to become the face of golf in his country.

He was helped by his background. Lahiri grew up in a city of nearly 9 million people and only four golf courses. ''That's probably not very many for America,'' he said, ''but it's quite a few for India.''

He said a large number of golf courses belong to the Army, and his father picked up the game. Lahiri was attracted to the sport as a way to spend more time with him, and he fell in love with golf because it matched his introspective personality.

''Golf is like meditation,'' he said. ''It's the reason I love playing the game. For that day or week, the rest of the world ceases to exist. I go into my happy place, which is the golf course. It's a very special place for me to do my thing and play golf.''

Lahiri never went to a golf academy. He began working with Vijay Divecha as a teenager, and that has been his only coach. Singh came to America and played at Abilene Christian in Texas. Lahiri didn't inquire of American colleges. He studied at home, earning a degree in commerce. He speaks English, Hindi and Bengali, and then he learned Punjabi because most of the amateur golf he played was in that region of India.

He won his first Asian Tour event in 2011, and he had won at least every year since then. But the last month still is hard to digest. Along with getting in World Golf Championships and the Masters, Lahiri only needs to stay in the top 60 for the next three months to qualify for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He is writing tournaments in America with hopes of playing more.

''They're all just names on a piece of paper right now,'' he said. ''I can play this event or that event, this major or that major. Once I start competing regularly in the big events, that will really start sinking in. And it's awesome.''

He played the British Open in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and made a hole-in-one on the third round. He tied for 31st, but kept thinking if he had just saved three more shots, he would have been in the top 10. He missed the cut at Royal Liverpool a year ago.

As for the Masters?

He has seen it only on television, mostly the back nine. He remembers the signature holes, such as the par-3 16th and Amen Corner. A friend in Delhi called last week and invited him to play the Masters on his video game.

Lahiri has long-term hopes. His ultimate destination is the PGA Tour, and he'd like to see more players from India behind him. S.S.P. Chawrasia, whom he beat at the Hero Indian Open, is the next highest-ranked player from India at No. 169. Kapur, Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa and Gaganjeet Bhullar all have played either WGCs or majors.

''Jeev and myself were the first generation of players who came out of India and were the first to win outside India,'' Atwal said. ''These guys have seen it done. And there's going to more of them. For Anirban's generation, they are not afraid. He really believes he can win.''

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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.