It Girl Gets It Just Right

By George WhiteApril 1, 2006, 5:00 pm
RANCHO MIRAGE, Cal. - She was definitely the It girl as she came off the Mission Hills golf course Saturday. Natalie Gulbis had hardly broken a sweat during the afternoon, though she had swung the club 68 times during the five hours she had been standing.
 
A long white ribbon fluttered her hair. Her outfit of colorful orange was still pressed and neatly tailored. She was public relations mans dream, saying all the right things, looking like a model.
 
Uh ' one other thing, gentlemen. She played golf like a champion. Her 68 tied her for the best score of the day Saturday, and it wasnt a fluke. The It girl is an athlete ' a excellent golfer, if you please.
 
The 68 probably wont help her win the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She started the day 11 shots off Lorena Ochoas lead. By days end she had trimmed the deficit to five, Ochoa touring the course in 2-over and Gulbis 4-under. But Gulbis believes she is probably too far back to be a serious win threat.
 
There isnt much pressure on her, Natalie was saying. She isnt expecting a whole lot ' a cynic would say that is why she hasnt won yet, a realist would say shes simply stating the painfully obvious.
 
I think Lorena Ochoa has a pretty fair lead, Gulbis said. As far ahead as she is ' Ive just got to go out and hit a lot of fairways.
 
Shes a phenomenal player ' a great player. She has hit the ball really well this week. You dont expect great players to come back to the field.
 
Is she not allowing herself to even think of winning? Well, Im pretty far back, she smiled, and the answer to the question was pretty well understood.
 
Ochoa has a three-stoke lead on Michelle Wie, Wie is two ahead of Natalie. Gulbis will play in the final group, since the other player at 4-under, Seon Hwa Lee, finished after Gulbis did.
 
Natalie played the first eight holes in even par, making birdie on the fourth, bogey on the eighth. But the shot of the day came on No. 9, a par-5 with an elevated green. Her first two shots left her just under 140 yards to the pin.
 
I hit an 8-iron in it took a hop, and next thing I knew, it was good, she said.
 
The crowd went nuts. Its always fun to make a good shot on 9 or 18 because all the people are there.
 
Naturally ' spoken like a true It girl. It was an eagle that sparked an impressive back nine in which Gulbis hit every fairway and added two more birdies, at No. 12 and No. 14.
 
Thats been more and more Gulbis-like throughout the year. She began working with instructor Butch Harmon last year and jumped to No. 6 on the money ladder, then capped the season with a solid Solheim Cup performance. And so far this year, shes finished in the top 5 three out of four tournaments. It cant be long before she breaks through to the winners circle for the first time.
 
Im just trying to become a more consistent player, she said simply. Same thing, youve just got to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, get a lot of chances to make putts.
 
Because if you miss the fairways at this tournament, it really takes the wind out of you. The rough is really, really high right off the fairway this year. Youve just got to wedge it out.
 
One final chance, though, Natalie ' do you have a chance tomorrow? Or is it all just for fun, just a good paycheck to play for?
 
Again, she slipped out of making any promises.
 
It depends on the weather, Gulbis said after a moments hesitation. If the weather gets bad, you know ' youve still got to play well.
 
She then turned to walk away ' always showing her PR perfection, always saying just the right thing. But youve got to admit ' the It girl is playing It golf.
 
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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.

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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."