Westwoods Big Day Comes in New Orleans
Lee said he would try golf. He liked it immediately, and before long he had a handicap. The handicap was 54, but it was still golf ' sort of.
My, what a ride! Three years later, Lee was playing to scratch at Worksop. In three more years, at 19, he turned professional. In his third season as a pro, he finished sixth on the European Tour money list. And five years after he turned pro ' at the age of 24 ' he won in the United States.
Westwood came to New Orleans that week in April to get ready for the Masters, which was the following week. He had just played in the 1998 Players Championship and finished in impressive fashion, shooting 68-69 on the weekend to tie for fifth. The Masters would be a letdown for Westwood, whose 300 score was 44th of the 46 players who made the cut. But for that one shining week in New Orleans at the Freeport-McDermott Classic, Brit Westwood was as perfect as perfect can be.
Westwood wasnt particularly impressive the first round. He played well with a 69, but that was five shots off the pace set by Glen Day, sizzling with an 8-under 64.
Westwood moved up the second day with a 68, though still three behind new leader Steve Flesch. But the third day, another round in the 60s ' this time 67 ' shot him to the top of the scoreboard. He owned a one-stroke lead over Flesch and two over Duffy Waldorf as the final day began Sunday.
He began to squeeze the life out of the field halfway through the round. A birdie at 10, then one at No. 11, gave him a little breathing room. The one on 11 was really impressive, a 40-foot putt that told the rest of the field, You better really play well if you want to keep this trophy from going back with me to England!
Westwood wasnt quite that boisterous, of course. But he was quietly confident.
You have to hole the putts when they count, he said. Fortunately for me, I got the killer blow in at the right time. Its a case of driving the nail in when you have to.Westwoods lead was up to five by the time he got to the 14th. There, he suffered a blow that might have knocked the props out from under a lesser player. Preparing to stroke a 30-foot putt from light rough, the ball jumped up slightly and caught his blade on top. One-stroke penalty for the double-hit and to make matters worse, the ball finished 10 feet from the hole on that roller.
Westwood took a deep breath and surveyed the situation. Then, facing a double bogey, he drilled the 10-footer into the back of the cup. Never even flinched, said Flesch, and Westwood got out of the hole with just a bogey.
Westwood had one more nerve-shaking encounter. The very next hole, the 15th, is a par-5 with the green surrounded by water. The hole had already extracted a 13 from Fulton Allem and an 11 from Scott Verplank earlier in the tournament.
But Westwood defied conventional wisdom, disdaining the 2-iron and striping a driver down the left side of the fairway. He only had 185 left to the pin, and naturally he went for it, getting there with a 5-iron. It was easily on the green, and two putts later he had another birdie. It was time to polish up the trophy for the plane ride to England.
Just another easy win for a very cool customer? Well, not exactly. Westwood described the day, giving the press one of the best quotes of 1998:
It was harder than it looked, he said. I was like a swan ' sort of gliding on the top, but my legs were paddling underneath.
Westwood would reach the mountain-top two years later when he won the European Tour Order of Merit for being the tours top money-winner. However, his marriage to the sister of tour pro Andrew Coltart, Laurae, produced a boy last year. Westwood missed the Masters as his wife was in labor. He played only sparingly thereafter, settling for a finish of 58th on the money list.
He momentarily rebounded last year with a third-place in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in August. I proved I hadnt lost the habit of being in contention you dont win tournaments by playing well and thinking poorly.
He injured his wrist at the end of August in WGC-NEC Invitational and that hampered him somewhat. He currently stands No. 61 on the money list this year as the European Tour gets into the heart of its schedule. He has plenty of time to make some giant steps, although he needs to get to work. His son just had his first birthday and Westwood is ready to go back fulltime.
Never, though, will he forget that wonderful week in New Orleans when it all went just as planned.
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."