Familiar Faces Return to Mercedes

By Golf Channel NewsroomJanuary 5, 2004, 5:00 pm
As fans walked around the grounds of the Plantation Course at Kapalua during last years Mercedes Championships, more than tee-time sheets were necessary in determining one player from another.
 
Fans would ask for an autograph and then view the scribbling to see whose signature they had just received.
 
Last years Mercedes Championships was case-in-point why professionals put their names on their bags.
 
It wasnt that Joe Public hadnt heard of Chris Riley or Jonathan Byrd or Kevin Sutherland or Spike McRoy or John Rollins. But put them all together, and have the likes of them comprise the majority of a limited field, and it can make it very difficult for the casual fan to distinguish one from another.
 
Such will not be the case this year.
 
Absent are: Dan Forsman, Bob Burns, Gene Sauers and J.P. Hayes. In are: Tiger Woods, Davis Love III and Mike Weir.
 
There were 36 players in last years event ' only six have returned.
 
The season-opening tournament is limited to the previous years winners, and in 2002 there were 18 first-time winners on the PGA Tour. That meant for plenty of maiden Mercedes participants.
 
Last year, however, there were only seven first-time winners, while there were 11 different champions aged 40 and over.
 
Out are: Ian Leggatt, Luke Donald and Matt Gogel. In are: Fred Couples, Peter Jacobsen and Craig Stadler.
 
Simply put, the faces will match the names in 2004 ' out with the new, in with the old.
 
This years field consists of 30 players, which means there are 24 who didnt compete a year ago.
 
Some, like Woods, Love and Weir are back from a one-year layoff. Others are making more long-awaited returns.
 
Tommy Armour III is back for the first time in 13 years; Bob Tway and Peter Jacobsen for the first time since 1996. Craig Stadler hasn't played in this tournament since 97, and Fred Couples, who was a television commentator at this event last year, is a participant for the first time since 99.
 
Jim Furyk, the 2001 winner who owns a home at Kapalua, has the longest running attendance mark at the Mercedes; he is making his sixth straight start.
 
Tiger Woods, who won in 1997 and 2000, would have held the longest streak ' he has qualified for the last eight ' but his was snapped when he had to sit out last years edition while recovering from off-season knee surgery.
 
While Woods was resting and recovering, Ernie Els was dominating.
 
Els annihilated the field last year, booming drives and making every imaginable putt on his way to a PGA Tour 72-hole scoring record in relation to par.
 
Els finished at 31-under-par 261; eight strokes clear of runners-up Rocco Mediate and K.J. Choi.
 
He went on to complete the Hawaiian sweep by winning the Sony Open the following week. He won seven times worldwide, as well as the European Tour Order of Merit.
 
A win at the Mercedes is usually an indicator that better things are to come. Over the last 11 years, the winner has eight times gone on to claim at least one other PGA Tour title that season.
 
This years winner will receive $1,060,000 of the $5.3 million purse. The par-73, 7,263-yard Plantation Course is hosting the event for the sixth successive year.
 
There have been six repeat champions: Gene Littler won three consecutive times from 1955-57; Jack Nicklaus in 1963-64; Arnold Palmer 1965-66; Tom Watson 1979-80; Lanny Wadkins 1982-83.
 
Related Links:
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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.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    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.

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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."


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    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."