Shotlink Zinger Heartache
Now that Shotlink is fully operational and capable of making money, they might not have a choice.
The tour's latest proposal is for caddies or players to carry a green index card that fits in their yardage books. They are to fill out club selection of every shot during or after the round.
Another test will take place this week in the Chrysler Championship, and the tour says everyone must do it at the season-opening Mercedes Championships next year at Kapalua.
While the tour is working with caddies, the responsibility will fall to the players.
'It's not a matter of choosing,' said Henry Hughes, the tour's chief of operations. 'It's going to be part of their day, like turning in a scorecard.'
And what if the players don't go along with the plan?
'There would be some action that would have to be taken,' Hughes said, although he declined to confirm speculation by some caddies that players would be fined for conduct unbecoming a professional if the card wasn't turned in.
Most caddies are not inclined to help, claiming they don't work for the tour and that an extra assignment could take away from their responsibilities to their players. They also don't believe the tour has treated them well when it comes to better parking and services at a tournament, among other things.
Still, most said they would do it if instructed by the player.
'I'll probably just do it,' Jeff Sluman said. 'Are there days I won't want to do it? Yeah. Maybe I've had a rough day, and at the end of the round, I'm not going to want to sit there and fill it out.'
The tour has not spoken to Tiger Woods about club selection, and his caddie, Steve Williams, is as stubborn as anyone when it comes to obeying a tour edict. Williams routinely paid fines for not wearing authorized shorts.
Getting Woods to buy into the plan will be crucial, because one reason for having club selection is to market an interactive game with EA Sports.
The tour could get by without club selection at the inception of Shotlink two years ago. The system still gives exact yardage and length of putts.
Now, however, the tour needs to start recouping some of its investment.
'We're starting to have revenue-producing items,' Hughes said. 'To enhance that, we're at the point where club selection is more critical.'
The key is getting everyone to go along.
Hughes maintains that more money for the tour means more money for the players, which eventually is passed along to the caddies.
AZINGER'S EXTRA YEAR
Being a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup comes with perks not many players need.
For Paul Azinger, it proved to be timely.
Azinger was a surprising pick for the 2001 team, having won only once in eight years (2000 Sony Open) and finishing 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings.
Then, the matches were delayed by one year because of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Fast forward to this summer, when Azinger was struggling with his swing and back injuries. His 10-year exemption from winning the '93 PGA Championship expires this year, and he figured he was going to finish out of the top 125.
The only thing saving him was his standing on the career money list.
Players get a one-time exemption for being in the top 25 in career money. If they remain in the top 50, they get another free pass.
'I called the tour and talked to them at Westchester,' Azinger said. 'I thought you could use it (career money exemption) one time. They said I could use a top 25 and a top 50.
'But they didn't mention anything about the Ryder Cup.'
Indeed, No. 10 in the pecking order of exempt status on tour is 'Members of the last-named U.S. Ryder Cup team.' In fact, Azinger will have higher status than those who finish in the top 125.
Azinger wasn't obsessed with keeping his exempt status; he's more concerned about fixing his swing, and says he is getting closer.
Still, he was pleasantly surprised that he didn't have to spend his one-time exemption with six years remaining before he is eligible for the Champions Tour.
'I hadn't even thought about keeping my card,' Azinger said. 'I would like to play well so I don't finish 190th on the money list, or wherever I am (175). It makes me sick to play the way I'm playing, but I'm on the mend. I've got to figure out how to make the game easier again - and fun.'
Every putt matters this time of the year, and so does every dollar.
That was never more true than last week in Miami on the Nationwide Tour, when Shane Bertsch closed with a 72 and was in a six-way tie for 28th. He would have earned $3,570, enough to finish No. 55 on the money list and qualify for the Nationwide Tour Championship.
Chris Starkjohann holed a 30-foot birdie putt and finished one stroke ahead in a tie for 23rd. That meant Bertsch went from a six-way tie for 28th to a five-way tie for 29th, a difference of $250.
He wound up 56th on the money list by $18.
The Houston Open made a record contribution for the 11th straight year, giving more than $5.2 million to local charities. ... Scott Hoch, Rocco Mediate and U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Lietzke will play for the U.S. team in the UBS Cup next month at Sea Island in the 40-and-older version of the Ryder Cup. ... Paul Lawrie (Great Britain and Ireland) and Jose Maria Olazabal (continental Europe) were selected as captain's picks for the Seve Trophy to be played Nov. 6-9 in Spain.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The last player in his 40s to win the PGA Tour money title was Greg Norman, who was 40 when he won it in 1995. Norman also was the last player to be voted player of the year without having won a major.
'Maybe because I've hit a million balls.' - Vijay Singh, when asked why he was having his best season on the PGA Tour.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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."