Downey Wins on Futures Tour
The highest she had finished as a pro during the first five tournaments of her inaugural professional season was a tie for 57th. That was a far cry from the days when she won the New York State Amateur Championship three times, or when she won three college tournaments and posted three top-six individual finishes at the NCAA Women's Golf Championship.
'Just last week, I was questioning whether I belonged with all of these players out here,' said Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., a three-time All-American at Auburn University. 'At every level, you look back and see what you've accomplished, but none of it means anything to anyone out here.'
But a little of her history stepped into her future today when Downey became the first American to win this season after eight Futures Tour tournaments. She simultaneously claimed her first win and first top-10 finish at the $65,000 Lima Memorial Hospital Futures Classic at Lost Creek Country Club.
And she charged onto the leader board in dramatic fashion today in the rain-shortened event. Downey birdied the first hole and played her front nine at 1-under 34, making the turn at 2-under par. Then she stepped up to the 10th tee -- one of the most challenging holes on the course -- choked down a 3-iron and knocked her 186-yard, uphill tee shot into the cup of the par-3 hole for an ace. That one shot tied her for the lead at four under par.
'I just wanted to hit the green,' said Downey. 'I didn't see it go in. Then I heard everybody scream.'
But Downey wasn't finished. She rattled in three more birdies on the back nine, including a 60-foot slam-dunk on the 18th green from the front fringe. It was an exclamation point at the end of her career-low professional round. Downey fired a final-round 65 to finish the week at 7-under-par 135, on the par-71, 5,897-yard course. This year's event, presented by WLIO/NBC and the WB, was looking for a new winner in its 11th staging.
'It's a great finish for her and she had a magical day,' said former Auburn teammate Celeste Troche of Asuncion, Paraguay, who carded her own final-round 68 and tied for second at 137 (-5) with Marcela Leon of Monterrey, Mexico and non-exempt LPGA Tour member Kim Augusta of Rumford, R.I. Leon posted a career-low round of 66, while Augusta came in with a final-round 67.
Lost Creek Country Club took a beating earlier in the week when heavy rains pounded the course Friday morning, then added a total of 2 1/2 inches of rain by Saturday morning. With creeks on the course causing flash floods and floodwaters turning at least three holes into lakes, Saturday's second round was canceled, shortening the 54-hole tournament to 36 holes.
Tournament organizers were concerned when today's forecast called for more afternoon rain. Friday's first round wasn't completed until this morning. Once 30 players finished Round One, an 18-hole cut was made at 74 (+3). Seventy-one players of the 144-player field went back out on a sunny day that made Saturday's washout only a distant memory. Players were on the highways by the time another storm ripped through the area around 7:30 p.m., dumping more rain on an already saturated golf course.
'I'm so glad we finished,' said Augusta, who used 24 putts to post her season-best finish for second place. 'It was a week of patience. We can't control the weather, so you just have to make the best of it, hang in there and see what happens.'
Prior to her arrival in Ohio this week, Downey traveled home to the Rochester area and worked with her pro, John Hoecker, for three days. She turned a nasty hook into a fade, and resurrected her confidence coming into this week. Most of all, she listened to her sister Erica Downey, who suggested that Danielle try treating Futures Tour events like the NCAA Championship.
'She really opened my eyes when she asked me why I had been such a good post-season player in college,' said Downey. 'So I came out here this week pretending this was the national championship.'
That strategy and her resulting win didn't surprise Kim Evans, her former coach at Auburn University.
'It's just a matter of her getting into the groove,' said Evans of her former college player. 'She always got up for big tournaments and she has the capability of going low. One thing I've seen is if Danielle ever gets into the hunt, she'll win.'
Downey won the Southeast Conference Championship her freshman year and beat current LPGA Tour player Beth Bauer of Duke University twice for two other collegiate titles that first season. Her coaches always knew she had the goods to win. Her teammates always knew they could depend on Downey to hold up her spot on the team.
'I played with her for four years and never trusted anybody any more than Danielle on the golf course,' said former teammate, Troche, playing in her second season.
That's also why former Auburn University assistant coach Shannon Hanson, who was playing alongside her former player in today's final round, smiled as her group climbed the stairs to the 18th tee box. She told Downey to take a deep breath and enjoy her final hole.
'Danielle was solid and she handled her game very well,' said Hanson, who finished tied for 22nd. 'I wasn't even in the hunt, so of course, I was cheering for her.'
Maybe now, Downey can cheer a little for herself. Maybe those two winning games of 215 that she bowled against friends during Saturday's washout, or the $500 she collected for her first professional hole-in-one, or the $9,100 winner's paycheck now in her hands are the validation she needs to know that she's a winner.
Or the confirmation she has waited for that a new chapter of her professional journey has finally begun.
Rahm (62) takes early lead at CareerBuilder
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.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
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."
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."