Vega Leads Futures Tour Event
'It's been a really frustrating year because I know how low I can go and how I can play,' said Vega, 23, of North Andover , Mass. 'I think this round has been waiting to happen.'
Indeed it has. After the last two years as the top player at North Carolina State University , Vega has struggled with her professional transition this spring on the Futures Golf Tour. A balky putter has regularly sabotaged her solid ball striking, causing the rookie to miss four of five tournament cuts. But with 23 putts today at the New Innsbrook Country Club and a one-putt green on her first nine holes today, Vega turned a corner in her young professional career.
'I was hitting it like I always do, only today, I was watching it go into the hole,' said Vega, who carded eight birdies and two bogeys. 'I've already learned a lot about staying patient because all of those little missed putts add up. Out here, you have to come out of the gates strong right from the start.'
With her father Alan Vega serving as caddie, the rookie took a different approach on the greens today. After some discussion prior to the round, the two agreed that dad would add a second set of eyes to line up the player on the greens. It was an experiment that proved successful, keeping Vega one shot ahead of fellow New Englander Libby Smith of Essex Junction, Vt. , and veteran pro Kellee Booth of McKinney , Texas -- who both opened with rounds with 68.
Smith was the first on the leaderboard from the morning rounds, grabbing the tournament lead for the first time in her two years as a pro. The Vermonter capitalized on her length, scoring birdies on five of the course's six par-five holes and she used 28 putts to convert on the greens. She surprised even herself after waking up at 4:30 this morning unable to swallow with a sore throat.
'It felt sort of flu-like, so before I went out there today, I tried to get my head into it, knowing that I would have to fight through it,' said Smith, who has one top-10 and one top-20 finish this season. 'The Ibuprofen kicked in around the fourth hole. I knew once I got out there, I'd feel better.'
And following that 'beware of the ailing golfer' mindset was Booth, who banged her head during a fall five days earlier and showed up this week with two stitches in the back of her head. Still fighting 'waves of nausea' -- which showed up during her first two holes, resulting in a pair of bogeys -- Booth scrambled back from her opening 38 on the back nine holes and posted a 6-under-par score of 30 on the front, that included four birdies and an eagle-3 on the par-five eighth hole.
'This is the first time I've broken 70 this year,' said Booth, 29, who has posted three top-20 finishes this season. 'The six par-5s give us a lot of opportunities for birdie.'
The third annual event in Northwest Indiana features an old-fashioned, tree-lined course measuring 6,196 yards, which uses a unique mixture of six par-5s, six par-4sand six par-3 holes. And for players who make the most of the par-5s, it's a chance to go low quickly or to make up lost ground. Former Purdue University player Caroline Goasguen of Montpellier , France , for example, recorded four consecutive 3s on the back nine that included a pair of eagle-3s on holes 15 and 17. She finished at even-par 72.
Vega, on the other hand, was the birdie-maker all day long.
'I'm not surprised at Bri's round today,' said Meaghan Francella of Port Chester , N.Y. , who played college golf against Vega while at the University of North Carolina . She's capable. She needs to know that she belongs out here.'
Chances are good that after today's opening round, Vega proved she's found her groove.
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."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
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."