Top breakthrough performance in 2011

By Randall MellDecember 20, 2011, 3:00 pm

The 2011 season was full of parity, playoffs and first-time winners. Rory McIlroy lapped the field at the U.S. Open at Congressional and Charl Schwartzel birdied his way into major championship history like no one before him. But who gave us the top breakthrough performance of the year? GolfChannel.com senior writers Jason Sobel, Randall Mell and Rex Hoggard offer up their picks.

By JASON SOBEL

If we search across all major tours for the breakthrough performer of 2011, there’s one player who stands above all others. I’m going with Ted Potter Jr.

Don’t know the story? You should.

Six years ago, the lefty reached the Nationwide Tour as a 20-year-old. A phenom in the junior ranks in his home state of Florida, Potter struggled mightily in his first full season on a PGA Tour-sanctioned circuit. How mightily? He played 24 events that year … and made the cut in exactly zero.

In the time since, Potter has bounced back and forth between the NGA Hooters and Nationwide tours, which is golf’s version of jumping between Double-A and Triple-A. In 2006 and ’09, he was player of the year on the Hooters circuit; in 2007 and ’10, he had more unsuccessful ventures on the Nationwide.

That all changed this year. After tearing up the Hooters Tour early on, he Monday-qualified for the Nationwide’s South Georgia Classic and won by three, then followed with a victory at the Soboda Golf Classic four months later.

The end result was a second-place finish on the money list, easily ensuring his place on the PGA Tour for the first time in 2012. It remains to be seen whether he breaks through in the big leagues in a big way, but his elevation in status this past season should qualify as the best on any tour.


By RANDALL MELL

As breakthroughs go, Lexi Thompson set a new standard in the women’s game.

When you win an LPGA event at 16, making yourself the youngest player in the 62-year history of the tour to win, it’s more smash-through than breakthrough.

Winning the Navistar LPGA Classic in September, Thompson also set up a remarkable break-in. With the title, she sought and received a waiver of the LPGA rule that requires members be at least 18 years old. This allowed her to claim an exemption to join the tour. She’ll break in as a full tour member next year beginning at the LPGA’s season-opening ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open Feb. 9-12 at Royal Melbourne.

When Thompson won the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters last weekend, the season-ending event on the Ladies European Tour, she heightened anticipation for her rookie year. She did so overpowering the competition at Emirates Golf Club, launching big drives that gave her a big advantage over older and more experienced foes. Thompson hit a remarkable 67 of 72 greens in regulation. When she won at Navistar, she averaged 277 yards per drive, longer than Yani Tseng that week. And Tseng led the LPGA in driving distance.

All of that makes Thompson the breakthrough player of the year. Or, better yet, the smash-through player of the year.


By REX HOGGARD

Through two turns on the PGA Tour Webb Simpson had put together a respectable, if undistinguished, resume – 68 starts, six top 10s, back-to-back seasons inside the top 125 in earnings.

He was the kind of guy you may take for your fantasy team with a knowing wink, but anyone outside of Simpson’s immediate family who tabbed the third-year Tour player for stardom in 2011 was either clairvoyant or completely delusional.

No? Consider that late into the fall of 2010 Simpson was 229th in the World Golf Ranking, he was 45th on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list and he wasn’t even qualified to play in any of the four major championships when the year began.

From those humble beginnings Simpson came within $336,000 of the Tour money title – to put that number in context it was the difference between a tie for sixth at Disney, where he finished, and a runner-up showing, or two strokes – and within 15 points of Bill Haas following the FedEx Cup champion’s Houdini-like heroics at East Lake.

Simpson closed the season with a 3-2-0 outing in his rookie Presidents Cup and was likely second in Player of the Year voting to Luke Donald, although the Tour doesn’t release vote totals.

It was a breakout performance by any measure.

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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.

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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."