Donald's wild ride at Disney

By Jason SobelOctober 23, 2011, 11:06 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It wasn’t Babe Ruth’s called shot. It wasn’t Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee. It wasn’t even Ben Crenshaw’s coy proclamation of, “I’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow.'

No, Luke Donald never stated that he was coming to Disney World to win the PGA Tour’s season finale. There was no hubris, no bravado, no boasting.

Even though the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer was competing in a field of journeymen, also-rans and youngsters trying to retain or at least improve their status, he never predicted a victory.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t his sole intention for making the journey.

Let’s face facts: Players don’t compete in Fall Series tournaments unless there’s a worthy reason. Maybe it’s a home game. Maybe they need to fulfill the minimum appearance requirement. Maybe they need to finish in the top 30 on the money list to reach the Masters or the top 70 to qualify for invitationals or the top 125 just to keep their cards.

In the curious case of Donald, there were much different numbers at stake. With money leader Webb Simpson already committed to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic field, he followed suit in an attempt to not only overtake that position – and give himself an opportunity to become the first player to win both the PGA and European money lists in the same season – but secure the Vardon Trophy and, very possibly, the Player of the Year award.

It says a lot about a player who would make the trip for such spoils. It says even more about one who accomplishes everything he intended.

To an outsider, Donald’s two-stroke, come-from-behind triumph on Sunday may have contained all the thrills of a sixth-grader robbing the kindergarten kids of their lunch money. Quite the contrary. It’s one thing to win when you want; it’s another to win when you need.

“The goal was to win,” Donald said. “Nothing was really going to be good enough other than that. You know, I think this is probably one of the most satisfying wins of my career just because of that. It was kind of do or die.”

In the end, Donald did. Entering the final round with a five-stroke deficit and playing head to head with Simpson for a fourth straight day, he shifted into another gear, racing to the top of the leaderboard. Donald carded a total of 10 birdies, including six in a row on the back nine, to post a final-round-best 8-under 64 – two shots clear of closest competitor Justin Leonard.

While the world’s No. 1 player winning a regular-season tournament isn’t normally a rare occurrence, as Donald astutely noted afterward, this was his first PGA Tour stroke-play victory in more than a half-decade. He previously won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this season and followed with a pair of European Tour titles, but it’s not as if he’s piled up dozens of wins like certain players to formerly hold those top-rank honors.

He can now start building shelves for all the trophies he’s about to accumulate. Donald has already notched the Arnold Palmer award for leading the money list, the Vardon Trophy for lowest stroke-play average and the PGA of America’s Player of the Year award, which is based on a points system.

Still in doubt is the PGA Tour’s own POY award, to be voted on by the membership, but expect Donald’s victory to carry some extra weight in the decision-making process.

“It was pretty clear to me that from what everyone thought, I needed to win this week to be able to sway some people's votes,” he said. “In terms of Player of the Year, obviously I needed at the very least to win the money list. You know, to be able to do that, it's special when it really mattered. I think as golfers, it's nice to win, but much more pleasing when things really mean something a little bit extra.”

It’s funny. If there’s been a prevailing theme throughout the PGA Tour campaign, it’s that this has been the Year of Parity. And that’s true to a point – seven different players won two titles and nobody won more.

Donald’s victory may have lent a little more credence to the theory that this is still a tour comprised partially of haves and have-nots, one in which every player is not created equally. For so much of the year – heck, even until the back nine of the final round in the last event – the Tour was muddled with myriad questions and unsolved mysteries about its proceedings.

He may not have called his shot this week, but simply by showing up with a stated goal and achieving it, Donald wrapped up the season into a neat bow on Sunday, his name becoming the sole answer to so many of those questions.

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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."