Seniors Leading the Way
Leading the way into the semifinals Sunday was two-time former champion Rick Vershure of Armonk, N.Y. Vershure, who turned 50 two weeks ago, beat Rob Labritz of Fairfield, Conn., 3 and 1. Vershure won the Match Play in 1990 and 1993.
In other results, all on the Dye course, Bob Ralston, 53, of Little Rock, Ark., ousted Allen Santos of Lowell, Mass., and Steve Heckel, 56, of Carterville, Ill., beat Sam Olson of Redding, Conn., both by 2 and 1; and Chris Campbell, 48, of Vero Beach, edged Frank Dully of Salem, Mass., 1-up.
In the semifinals Sunday, Vershure plays Campbell at 8 a.m., and at 8:09, it will be Heckel against Ralston. The winners meet for the championship at 8 a.m. Monday. The champion will earn $4,500, the runnerup $2,800, from the $52,130 prize fund.
Vershure, head professional at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., took advantage of five three-putt greens by Labritz and some of his own swing changes. 'I'm making a lot of changes,' Vershure said. 'I'm making some goofy swings but I am also making some that are really good.' Labritz was 2-up after six holes but Vershure won the seventh with par, the ninth and 10th with birdies, then lost the 12th to Labritz' birdie. Vershure won the 13th and 14th, lost the 15th but won the 16th and 17th with pars to end the match.
Campbell, head professional at Vista Plantation, was three under par, taking a 2-up lead when he holed a 30-foot chip shot from short and left of the 15th green and sank a 10 footer for birdie at the 16th. Dully birdied the 17th from 15 feet but they halved the 18th with pars. 'I'm hitting the ball so well, just not missing any shots,' Campbell said. 'I hit all the fairways and 18 greens Friday,' in the fifth round 'and at least 16 greens today.'
Ralston, a teaching professional at Burns Park Golf Club, and Santos swapped the lead several times on the first 11 holes and the match was still even through the 14th. Then Santos hit his drive into a marshy area off the 15th tee and also bogeyed the 16th, giving Ralston a 2-up lead. The match ended when they halved the 17th with pars.
Heckel, pro-owner of the Crab Orchard Golf Club, is recovering from chronic tendonitis in both hands. 'I just started playing again Jan. 6,' at the start of the PGA Winter Tournament Program, he said. 'I'm getting stronger every day but I never expected anything like this. I'm just glad to be playing golf again. I couldn't play at all here last year.'
The Match Play is the sixth and final championship of the PGA Winter Tournament Program.
Steve Heckel, Carterville, Ill., d. Sam Olson, Redding, Conn., 2 and 1.
Bob Ralston, Little Rock, Ark., d. Allen Santos, Lowell, Mass., 2 and 1.
Rick Vershure, Armonk, N.Y., d. Rob Labritz, Fairfield, Conn., 3 and 1.
Chris Campbell, Vero Beach, d. Frank Dully II, Salem, Mass., 1-up.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
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."