Koepka, Wood return from injuries with solid rounds

By Ryan LavnerJuly 28, 2016, 7:30 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Playing their first competitive round in about a month, Brooks Koepka (68) and Chris Wood (69) surprised even themselves with under-par scores on the first day of the PGA Championship.

They couldn’t have come at a better time, either, with Ryder Cup qualifying heating up.

Koepka hasn’t played since he withdrew midway through the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational because of discomfort in his right ankle. He was later diagnosed with torn ligaments and pulled out of The Open.

Thursday’s opening round at Baltusrol was the first time that he’s played 18 holes since the final round of the U.S. Open on June 19.

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“I feel fine,” he said with a smirk. “Shot 2 under, so that’s fine. I’ll take that.”

Koepka’s ankle was heavily taped and he wore a brace during the first round. He said he began to feel discomfort on the fourth hole, but he managed four birdies and an eagle. Most of the pain arrives, he said, after the weight shift to his downswing and up into his follow-through, when he spins onto his toes.

Koepka said he wouldn’t have played this week if it weren’t a major. Since suffering the injury, he’s dropped from third to ninth in Ryder Cup points. The top eight as of Aug. 28 automatically qualify.

“I don’t want to be a pick,” said Koepka, who was passed over last fall for the Presidents Cup team. “Just play my way onto the team and see how it goes.”

The Ryder Cup is also on the mind of Wood, the Englishman who currently occupies the fourth and final qualifying spot on the European Points List. The squad will be finalized at the end of August.

The BMW PGA champion hasn’t played a full competitive round since the French Open on July 3. Wood felt pain on the right side of his neck on Tuesday of Scottish Open week, a day after spending the day in the Royal Box at Wimbledon. The discomfort hasn’t subsided, and he withdrew from the Scottish Open and pulled out after 11 holes of The Open, despite receiving treatment three times a day.

A scan last week revealed no structural damage, but he said it’s “been three weeks of not being able to move too easily and not make a full backswing.” Most eye-opening was a range session at The Open, where he saw a TrackMan reading that his drive carried only 190 yards.

“When it drags on for three weeks,” he said, “the mind starts wondering: Am I safe? Am I not? Do I need to do much else?”

Wood spoke with European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke before The Open at Royal Troon, to update him on his status. Clarke told him to “chill out and get myself fit,” but that was easier said than done.

“He can say all he wants about me having a chance,” Wood said, “but until my name is cemented, I’m not going to be able to relax.”

Wood said as of Sunday, he hadn’t hit more than a 100-yard wedge shot in the past few weeks. He played 18 holes Tuesday, with discomfort, but Wednesday’s nine-hole spin around Baltusrol was the first time that he’s been able to play pain-free.

Wood said that he arrived here with “no expectations,” because he was coming to a demanding venue with only short-game reps, but he shot 69 Thursday and was only four shots off the early lead.

Wood said he would have tried to play this week no matter his health.

“Just because of what’s at stake at the moment,” he said. “I’ve got to play to cement my place on the team.”

Wood is also in the field for next week’s match-play event in Scotland on the European Tour. If he drops out of the top four on the points list, he could add another start, late next month in Denmark.

“But I’ll have to get the wife’s permission,” he said with a smile. Wood is getting married Aug. 20.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

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

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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.

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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.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

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.