Six Feet Make It Or Miss It
Especially when a major championship hangs precariously in the balance. Or when the biggest payday on the PGA Tour is at stake.
You can ask Grace Park or Adam Scott. Both faced six-footers Sunday on the 72nd hole. Six feet was all that stood between them and a glorious celebration. But ' six feet is also all that stood between them and instant heartbreak.
Miss, and they would have to go into a playoff ' Scott with Padraig Harrington, Park with Aree Song. Miss, and they have to play on, giving their opponents a clear mental edge going into extra holes. Miss, and you have to somehow, some way find it within yourself to regroup for the playoff. Miss, and you miss the best chance to win your first big title.
Park was honest enough to admit that she was shaking like a stop sign in a windstorm as she stood over the six-footer. Scott was just as honest, but said he thought only about pouring it into the cup. Both ways were successful, Parks bullseye for the Nabisco Championship, Scott for the Players Championship.
My knees, my arms, my whole body was shaking, Park said.
I don't know if anybody else is that way, but I remember every win that I've had. Seriously, I didn't know if I could start the club. And I guess it's good, because every time I'm like that, I do well. And I don't get that nervous very often.
Scott says he always was optimistic. Park was optimistic, too, but that did little to quiet nerves that were screaming inside her. The key for the 23-year-old Scott was thinking of another time, another place, another putt of about the same distance.
Once I knew the putt was pretty straight up there, said Scott, I felt really confident I could make it. I just didn't let myself think about anything else then but making the putt.
I thought of other times, I thought of actually the Match Play tournament, where I went extra holes with Robert Allenby, and he kept making putts in front of me to win the match in extra holes and I made them back on top of him - and that's what I thought over that putt.
Parks putt would have been a simple back-and-through motion if Song hadnt made a 30-footer for eagle just before she was supposed to attempt it. As it was, Parks effort now went from that stroke she had made all her life ' to one that was the ultimate knee-knocker. It wasnt as though she would attempt one from long range and then react with joy if it happened to fall in. This one was imminently makeable. But it was also ' imminently miss-able.
Grace didnt fool around with false bravado ' she had watched closely as Songs bomb went in. And it wasnt exactly what Park wanted to see. No false stiff-upper-lip hoping that your opponent played her best. Song made her 30-footer, and Park immediately felt like shed been stabbed.
I didn't block it out - I knew that I knew exactly what I had to do, Grace said. I watched Aree's putt, actually. I saw it go in the hole and then I knew that I really, really had to make my six footer.
And Aree's putt when your opponent makes a putt, you just have that feeling that she's going to make it. And I had that feeling that she was going to make that putt. And sure enough, right at the heart. And she's pumping her fist, you know. And I just got ready to putt mine and I did it.
For Scott, it was a little bit of dj vu. He could think back on old memories to help him through.
Actually, last year I hit it quite close on the 18th hole on Sunday in similar position, he said. It was a little shorter, it was probably five feet last year, and I kind of remembered that it was pretty straight.
But, you know, I saw a little break, if anything, going to the right. But I thought, This is your chance; let's take the break out in a nice firm putt and knock it straight on the back. And it was just perfect, that putt.
Park, who is 25 now, is steadily gaining experience with this kind of putt. Sundays was to win a major. But regardless, she says, it was a putt to nail down a victory, and such putts are ALWAYS nerve-wracking.
You don't think about what tournament it is, said Grace. It's about making the putt, it's about winning a tournament, it's about becoming a champion. It's like, I'm nervous because I want to win. I want to make that putt. And I want to win a tournament. And this one just happened to be a major championship - and a great one too.
Park made it. And Scott made it. Someday they may get comfortable with having to make six-footers for big wins. But for now, a six-footer is six feet of uneasy moments.
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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."