Punch Shot: First-time major champion

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 2, 2016, 2:00 pm

Jordan Spieth and Jason Day broke through in the majors in a big way in 2015. Who has the best chance to win major No. 1 in 2016? Our writers weigh in.

By RYAN LAVNER

Patrick Reed.

After a steady but unspectacular summer, Reed closed out his year with six consecutive top-10s worldwide to push inside the OWGR top 10 for the first time. Still maddeningly inconsistent at times, the 25-year-old finally appears ready to deliver on all of that promise, after a major season in which he finished in the top 30 in all four events.

An improved putter, Reed ranked near the bottom of the Tour statistics in ball-striking last season, the biggest reason that he failed to capitalize on his opening win at Kapalua. He seems to have found something of late, however, because in two starts during the wraparound season he has found 82 percent of the greens in regulation. He should have little trouble carrying over that strong iron play during the three-week offseason.

Reed plays so much golf (three consecutive years of 29-plus starts) that he’s bound to endure waves of inconsistency. But if he can find the right combination of staying sharp and not getting worn out, he has the all-around game to break through and win his first major.


By RANDALL MELL

Rickie Fowler will spend a lot of time with the claret jug next year.

Fowler won on some big stages in 2015, beating strong fields with clutch closing efforts at The Players Championship, the Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank Championship. He had that great run knocking on the door at every major in 2014, when he was T-5 or better in all four of them. He looks prepared for the next big step and Royal Troon looks like a good place to take that step.

Royal Troon has a history of crowning first-time major winners. The last three players to win The Open Championship there were first-time major winners – Todd Hamilton (’04), Justin Leonard (’97) and Mark Calcavecchia (’89).

Fowler wants to get into the mix with Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy for consideration as the game’s best players. He needs a major to move into that conversation, and he looks more than ready to do so.


By REX HOGGARD

Branden Grace began 2015 with no status on the PGA Tour and little name recognition on this side of the transatlantic divide.

He rectified the former issue with his play in this year’s majors and the latter concern seems destined to be addressed at this year’s Grand Slam stops.

The laconic South African earned special temporary membership on Tour with his tie for fourth at the U.S. Open, where he began the final round tied for the lead but derailed his title hopes with a tee shot that raced down the train tracks adjacent to the 16th hole at Chambers Bay and out of bounds.

Grace completed his Grand Slam apprenticeship with a third-place finish at the PGA Championship after a third-round 64 moved him to within three strokes of the lead.

That momentum continued for Grace in 2015, with top-five performances to close out the year at the WGC-HSBC Champions, DP World Tour Championship and Nedbank Golf Challenge.

He also scorched the U.S. side at the Presidents Cup in October, leading the International team with a perfect 5-0-0 record in his second start in the matches.

It was all a sign that the 27-year-old is poised to take the next step in this year’s biggest events.


By WILL GRAY

This will be the year that Hideki Matsuyama graduates from “consistent contender” to “major champion.”

Matsuyama quietly had one of the most consistent seasons last year on the PGA Tour, racking up 19 top-25 finishes in only 25 starts while missing just two cuts.

His consistency has been a staple at the majors, as well: since the 2013 U.S. Open, Matsuyama has finished outside the top 40 only once in 11 majors, with a trio of top-10 finishes across that same span.

Matsuyama is one of the best ball-strikers on Tour, and he demonstrated at the 2014 Memorial Tournament that he has what it takes to defeat an elite field on a difficult track. The putter has always been his biggest liability, but if the birdies start to drop he will certainly be a factor down the stretch – especially on a taxing layout like, say, Oakmont.

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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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.