Aggressive approach has McIlroy again in major contention

By Jason SobelAugust 11, 2012, 11:30 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Most observers called it a childish decision from a golfer just barely removed from being a child.

This was the opening round of last year’s PGA Championship and young Rory McIlroy, just two months after winning the U.S. Open, was faced with a shot on the third hole of Atlanta Athletic Club from the root of a tree.

It was the type of shot that defines what kind of player a guy is.

No, more than that. It was the type of shot that defines what kind of person he is.

Video: Rory McIlroy's news conference

Punch the ball carefully back into the fairway and he’s the type of person who plans ahead, who considers the future, who plays it safe in hopes of greater returns later.

Take a mighty lash toward the green and he’s the type of person who lives in the moment, who throws caution to the wind, who tries to play hero in the face of danger.

Rory McIlroy took a mighty lash. He is that type of person.

Forget that he barely advanced the ball from that tree root. Forget that he carded a bogey on the hole. Even forget that he strained tendons in his right forearm that hampered his performance for the remainder of that week and a few subsequent tournaments, as well.

It may not have been the proper decision, but it taught us plenty about him as a player and a person.

That story is relevant exactly one year later, as McIlroy owns a share of the lead at the very same tournament halfway through his third round.

If we’ve learned anything while watching the 23-year-old in the last two editions of this event, it’s that hubris can get a man nowhere or everywhere.

Just as his aggressive nature at last year’s PGA sealed his fate with 69½ more holes to play, that same innate characteristic has helped him vault up the leaderboard here at the Ocean Course. Finishing nine holes before the rain came on Saturday, he posted five birdies and moved past some superstar fellow competitors to grab a share of the lead with Vijay Singh at 6 under.

“Look, when you're an aggressive player, you're going to have days where it doesn't go so well and then you're also going to have days like this,” McIlroy explained. “I'm just happy that a day like that came today.”

Whereas some of the other contenders struggled to play with such boldness on an opening stretch of holes that was yielding some lower scores – including, ahem, a certain 14-time major champion – McIlroy stepped on the gas pedal and never looked back.

He made birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8, taking sole possession of the tournament lead for the first time before his first setback with a bogey on the ninth.

“Today the pins were a little friendlier, so you could take a few chances here or there and go for them,” he said. “My short game saved me a little bit, too, on the front nine. I had a couple of great up-and-downs for pars to keep the good start going. I hit a couple of great iron shots into the par 3s on the fifth and on the eighth, which turned out to be birdies.”

Those into symmetry will point out that McIlroy had another run-in with a tree on Saturday. Instead of the root, this time it was the top of a tree that gobbled his drive on the third hole, his ball wedging in its bark.

He received a free drop from there, leading to par, later joking about his pugnacity, “I'm just glad I didn't try and play that ball from the tree.”

It was about the only aggressive shot that he didn’t try to hit during these nine holes.

That’s the thing with being the type of person who takes a bold approach. Sometimes you end up failing and injured. Other times you’re the hero.

It’s all about seeing the forest through the trees. And the tree roots, too.

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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 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."

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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.


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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."

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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."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

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."