Castrale Wins Second Consecutive Futures Tour Title
And for 54 holes, the Californian was even more electrifying than the lightning bolts that cracked over her head this afternoon as she stood in the 18th fairway, preparing to hit into the final green. But by day's end, she was safe and dry with a crystal trophy in her arms and a new No. 1 position on the Futures Tour Money List for her wire-to-wire finish.
'I heard a huge crack while I was over my shot and it felt like the lightning was right on top of me,' said Castrale of Palm Desert, Calif., who fired rounds of 66-72-71 for a 7-under-par total of 209 at the Kankakee Elks Country Club.
Funny, but that's kind of how the field felt all week when Castrale tore into a difficult layout with a 6-under-par score of 66 in the first round. On the 6,257-yard course that featured severely undulating greens that required exact approach shots and a steady hand on the putter, Castrale's patience and course management kept the rest of the 144-player field in chase mode all week. In today's final round, she hit 14 greens in regulation and stayed out of reach all day.
'You've got to hit it inside 10 feet to make the putts here,' said runner-up Alena Sharp of Hamilton , Ontario , who posted an even-par 72 today to finish at 3-under 213 in her best finish on the Futures Golf Tour. 'I needed to shoot a 66 today to beat her.'
Seon-Hwa Lee of Chonan, Korea and Christine Boucher of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec each posted a final-round score of 69 and tied for third at 214 (-2), but there was no catching the former University of Southern California player. Not before the lightning and hailstones roared in and suspended play at 2:10 pm CST, and not after play resumed at 3:36 p.m., with bright sunshine bathing the well-wishing gallery in the first-year event.
'It was kind of hard because when we came in during the storm delay, everybody was congratulating me,' said Castrale, 26. 'But I knew it wasn't done. It seemed like the longest hour or whatever it was. I knew when I went back out, I still had to execute my shots.'
And that was her mindset even after the sizzling 66 in the first round that included a 29 on the front nine -- a number that tied the Tour's record low score for nine holes shared by such Futures Tour alums as Lorena Ochoa and Sue Ginter-Brooker.
Castrale was uncharacteristically slow-starting today with a bogey on the first hole when she missed a 6-foot putt for par. Sharp, still looking for her first win, saw the opportunity, but wasn't able to convert her 10-footer for birdie after Castrale suffered the early hiccup.
'If I could have made my putt, that could have changed things,' said Sharp, who won the 2004 Canadian PGA Championship. 'She started out a little shaky, but once she made a birdie, she settled down.'
That didn't take long. Castrale rolled in her first birdie on the fourth hole from 5 feet and after making the turn, she added another birdie from 25 feet on the 10th and another from 3 feet on the 12th to build a four-shot lead over Sharp. Her final stumble came on the 17th hole when she pulled her tee shot, punched out of trouble, and failed to get up and down for par from 20 feet.
But even after she returned to the par-5 18th fairway, stroked a 9-iron to 106 yards, then coaxed her gap wedge to 12 feet, Castrale remained focused on closing out her second career win. Her first putt burned the right edge, leaving only a tap-in par.
'To tell you the truth, I'm surprised she didn't win like this earlier,' said Futures Tour rookie Becky Lucidi of Poway , Calif. , who roomed with Castrale at Southern Cal. 'If you look at her swing, you won't find a flaw. She's so solid and she has such good fundamentals. I really think Nicole is starting to blossom now and I don't think she's going away anytime soon.'
And for a player who has undergone three rotator-cuff surgeries and a start-stop pro career riddled with rehabs and self-doubt, today's win was perhaps even sweeter than last week's inaugural victory in Indiana .
'She's been fighting through a lot of injuries and I think she's been told she's a good player for a long time,' said caddie/husband Craig Castrale. 'This just solidifies all the hard work.'
But even after storming through Kankakee and leaving the field behind to play for second, Castrale is the first to admit there's no resting.
'It's awesome to win back-to-back, but we still have 11 weeks to go and there's a lot of golf to play,' she said. 'I have to keep playing good golf because nothing is going to be handed to me. I can't relax now. It's almost like I have to work even harder.'
Which is a scary thought to anybody who was chased by the storm today in Kankakee.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
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.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.