Mills Hoping to Skip Q School
Belleville's Jon Mills would also prefer skipping school, but in his case, we're not talking homework and teachers' dirty looks. The long grind of various stages of PGA TOUR qualifying school with the next step in his career riding on the outcome is what Mills would like to blow off.
In order to do that, Mills has to maintain the pace that has him 24th on the Nationwide Tour money list, a position that would automatically move him ahead to the next grade of competition. With the top 25 on the money list getting their PGA TOUR cards, Mills is on the bubble and isn't taking anything for granted.
'You can't not think about it because it's coming to that point where you have to at least schedule it and send in your forms for Q-school, just in case,' said Mills, who enjoyed the Labor Day weekend off, along with the rest of the Nationwide Tour.
Mills has been successful in skipping school in the past. Two years ago, he won the now-dormant Canadian PGA Championship at Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, Ont., a title that all but clinched his PGA TOUR card before he made it official by finishing fifth on the money list that year.
Making just six cuts, as Mills did in '06, generally gets a guy put back from golf's highest level, but his disappointment at returning to the Nationwide Tour this year apparently isn't standing in the way of his efforts to return to the PGA TOUR.
'I feel like my game's really consistent right now,' he said. 'I'm hitting a ton of greens -- it's pretty tough to make a lot of mistakes if you're hitting about every green.'
Mills hasn't been as spectacular as when he won the Canadian PGA in 2005, but he has been grinding it out admirably with five top-10s finishes. He had a particularly hot hand in June and July, forcing him to make a difficult decision. There were some raised eyebrows when Mills wasn't in the field at the Canadian Open.
The way he figured though, it was best to try and improve his position on the Nationwide Tour by playing in the Cox Classic at Champion Run in Omaha, Neb., where he tied for 17th while the Open was going on at Angus Glen.
'Being there, I could have stayed with my parents. I felt like I needed to play Omaha though. It's one that I've done well at and I really enjoy the golf course and play well there,' he said.
'It was tough. I love playing (the Open). I love being around home and, obviously, that's one of the biggest events of the year for me. Looking back now, I played well in Omaha and it definitely helped me move up on the money list, so I think I made the right right decision.'
It was a wise decision for the long term. It would be sweet returning to the next year's Open at Glen Abbey as a full-fledged member of the PGA TOUR, but to do that, he now has to focus on the next two months.
There are eight tournaments left on the Nationwide Tour schedule, beginning with this week's Utah EnergySolutions Championship and ending with the Tour Championship, Nov. 1-4 in California.
While Mills is in the best position among Canadians on the Nationwide Tour, he knows from his own experience how quickly things can change with a win or a high finish, so Brantford's David Hearn, sitting back in 44th place, is capable of a quick jump up the money list, according to Mills.
'He's at the point where, one good week, he passes me and he passes a bunch of guys. He's in a good position,' said Mills. 'He's throwing up some numbers early in tournaments. If he keeps that up, he's going to win. From his standpoint, he might be a little discouraged, but you keep doing that, it's going to pay off.'
The stats back up that observation. Hearn shot an impressive 65 in the first round of the Canadian Open, but finished with a trio of 73s. Back on the Nationwide Tour the following week, he shot rounds of 68-65-67, with a third round 70 getting in the way. If he somehow strings four together, victory may be at hand.
A lot can happen over the next two months for Mills, Hearn and Aurora's David Morland, who is in 48th place on the money list. Their report cards are showing potential, but their final grades are not in yet.
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Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun and senior writer for Pro Shop Magazine, a Canadian golf trade publication, and Canadian Golfer Magazine. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
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.
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.