Which players enter 2013 with the most to prove?

By Will GrayDecember 29, 2012, 1:30 pm

As the calendar turns to 2013, the promise of a new season can hold a variety of meaning for players. For some, the new year represents an opportunity to build upon momentum garnered in 2012; for others, it serves as a chance to break through on the game's biggest stage.

For still another group, the promise lies somewhere in between. After solid campaigns in 2012, their names are well-established among golf's best, but questions still remain about whether they can find a place among the game's top echelon this season. Who, then, are the players with the most to prove in the coming year?

Nine months ago, Hunter Mahan was arguably the hottest player in golf. A winner twice in his first seven starts last season, Mahan entered the year's first major ranked No. 4 in the world and atop the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings. From there, though, his season faltered; Mahan would crack the top 10 only once in his next 15 starts (T-8, AT&T National), and a Ryder Cup berth that appeared to be a certainty in the spring never came to fruition.

As a result, a season in which Mahan took home more than $4 million in earnings and finished sixth in the regular season FedEx Cup points race was seen in many ways as a disappointment. Entering 2013, he will be eager to erase the pain of his mid-season slump and prove that the early successes of last year were no fluke.

Last season saw Rickie Fowler achieve an important milestone, as the 24-year-old claimed his first PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship. Fowler followed that up with a runner-up finish at The Players and a T-5 showing at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in his next two starts, earning him PGA Tour Player of the Month honors for May.

Fowler struggled to maintain that pace across the second half of the season, though, as he was unable to record a top-20 finish in his next nine Tour starts and failed to break 80 on three separate occasions. Entering only his fourth full season on Tour, time is still very much on Fowler's side. Nevertheless, as 2013 begins, questions remain as to whether his game will soon match his prominent fashion flair on a more consistent basis.

Among those with the most to prove entering 2013 are a pair of Englishmen, both of whom played pivotal roles in sparking the European comeback at the Ryder Cup in September. Ian Poulter's already-impressive match play credentials reached an historic level with his 5-0 individual record at Medinah, and Poulter complemented that result with an equally impressive stroke-play effort in claiming the WGC-HSBC Champions two months later. As a result, he enters the new year ranked No. 12 in the world, his highest position in nearly two years.

Like Poulter, Justin Rose also won a WGC event in 2012, holding off Bubba Watson to win at Doral in March. To that result he added impressive showings at several other high-profile events: T-3 at the PGA Championship, and runner-up finishes at both the season-ending Tour Championship and the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour. Now fourth in the world, Rose has never been ranked higher and expectations have never been loftier.

For both Poulter and Rose, a place among the best in today's game has been established; what remains to be seen is whether either player can ascend to a truly elite level in 2013. For the Englishmen, along with players like Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, such ascension can only take place under one condition a major championship triumph.

Fair or not, major titles continue to be the most consistent measuring stick by which seasons can be evaluated; they are the ultimate means by which a good year becomes great. With only four such events to be won each year, the pool of players able to meet such lofty goals will inevitably be small. The question, however, remains as January nears: by season's end, which of these players will have proven themselves worthy of such expectations?

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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.


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.