Power Rankings: Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open

By Will GrayJuly 10, 2013, 2:50 pm

While the PGA Tour remains in America's heartland this week, the European Tour stages one of its biggest events at Castle Stuart with the British Open now just days away. A world-class field will tee it up in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, hoping to get a feel for links golf in Scotland before heading to Muirfield next week.

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Jeev Milkha Singh returns as defending champion, a title he won last year in a playoff over Francesco Molinari. Here are 10 players to watch this week in Inverness:

1. Ernie Els: With the defense of his British Open title on the horizon, the South African is clearly rounding into form, with a T-4 finish at Merion followed by a win in Germany. While much of Els' success in this event came at Loch Lomond, he has made the cut in two of three appearances at Castle Stuart, including a T-25 result in 2011.

2. Francesco Molinari: The Italian clearly feels comfortable at Castle Stuart, with last year's runner-up performance coming on the heels of a fourth-place showing in 2010. Molinari has four top-25 finishes in his last six starts, including a tie for 18th last week in France.

3. Shane Lowry: The Irishman made headlines earlier this year when he ousted Rory McIlroy at Dove Mountain, but his success in this event is well-established, with top-15 finishes in each of the last three years at Castle Stuart. Lowry's game appears to be in order, as he enters off a T-5 showing at The Irish Open just two weeks ago.

4. Matteo Manassero: Among the hottest players in the world, the young Italian has five top-25 finishes in his last six overall starts, including a breakthrough win at Wentworth. He tied for 36th at Castle Stuart a year ago but appears poised to take his game to a new level.

5. Henrik Stenson: The Swede is in the midst of an impressive comeback season, one that is likely to continue this week in an event where he tied for eighth in 2012. His T-21 finish at Merion was followed by a top-10 result in Munich, and Stenson is one of several in this week's field hoping for another high result before heading to Muirfield.

6. Phil Mickelson: Trying to predict Mickelson's performances this year has largely been an exercise in futility, but he's still likely to contend this week despite a missed cut in West Virginia a week ago. A mainstay in this event regardless of venue, Lefty's result has gotten progressively better in the three years at Castle Stuart, including his tie for 16th a year ago.

7. Nicolas Colsaerts: The 'Belgian Bomber' has a pair of top-25 finishes in his last three worldwide starts, including a tie for 10th at the U.S. Open. Having tied for third at Castle Stuart in 2011, Colsaerts sits among the top 10 on both the PGA and European Tours in driving distance and among the top 25 in GIR percentage.

8. Padraig Harrington: The three-time major champion appears to have no issue with the venue change for this event, having tied for 14th in 2011 and tied for 16th a year ago. Harrington surprisingly missed the cut in the Irish Open his last time out, but has an established track record of playing well the week before a major.

9. Alexander Noren: The Swede is quietly having a successful summer, with top-10 finishes in three of his last six starts on the European Tour, including ties for fourth at both the Nordea Masters and BMW International Open last month. Noren led after 36 holes last year at Castle Stuart, ultimately tying for third, just one shot out of the playoff between Singh and Molinari.

10. Martin Laird: A winner on the PGA Tour earlier this season in San Antonio, Laird will have the support of fans this week in his native land. He's found success in this event three of the last four years, including a tenth-place showing in 2010 and a tie for 16th last year, when he was firmly in contention before fading with a final-round 74.

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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.

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."


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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."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."