Firestone sets up well as Oak Hill preview

By Jason SobelJuly 31, 2013, 7:17 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There are two schools of thought for elite pro golfers when preparing for major championships. Rather than separate them as The Players and The Planners or The Grinders and The Relaxers, it's simple enough to refer to 'em as the Phils and the Tigers.

Lest you've failed to pay attention to the week before a major for the past couple of decades, here's the scoop: The Phils (as in Mickelson) prefer to get into the major groove by competing in a tournament the week prior; the Tigers (as in Woods) would rather ready themselves by practicing, often at the major venue.

Plenty of top players move swiftly between the two groups depending on the major or their personal schedule or their current form. That's true for every big-week-before-a-big-week other than this one, when – in a fit of poetic justice stolen from another athletic superstar – the game's best will be taking their talents to Akron.

Since 2007, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has preceded the PGA Championship. That doesn’t always mean host course Firestone Country Club sets up as perfect preparation for the major venue, though. There are many years – take last year, for instance, as Firestone was followed by a seaside links in Kiawah’s Ocean Course – when competing on one doesn’t serve any significance the next week.

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This isn’t one of those years.

This year, Firestone will be followed in the batting order by Oak Hill, another tree-lined, old-style course that will require competitors to bash drivers long and straight in order to find success.

“It is very similar, straightforward, right in front of you,” said Woods, who has won at Firestone seven times and parlayed a win here in 2007 into a PGA Championship win, as well. “This golf course, I don't think, is as hard or as difficult as Oak Hill, especially with the green complexes. The green complexes are a little bit more severe at Oak Hill. But overall it's old-school golf. It's just right in front of you, no hidden tricks out there. Just got to go out there and really hit the ball well.”

While the Tigers and the Phils may not always get along, on this matter there is agreement.

“We were there [Monday], and it's in immaculate shape,” Mickelson said. “It's really pristine. It's difficult, as you can imagine, like any major championship. It's as thick a rough as I've seen in a long time – long, dense, thick, heavy rough. And it will have a premium – it's very much like a U.S. Open – it will have a premium on getting the ball in play off the tee and so forth.”

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose generally prefers to relax and practice as opposed to competing prior to a major, but he understands how figuring out Firestone could help him contend for another major next week.

“You're going to have to drive it fairly straight and without too much shape,” he said. “A lot of straightaway par 4s, a lot of holes where you're just literally having to get up and hit a good solid 300-yard tee shot. I feel like this course will be great preparation for that. Like I was just saying, it's a golf course here where you have to just get up and play really well Tee to Green. Sometimes straight par 4s are often the hardest, where there's not a lot of shape to them, and you do have quite a few of those out there on this golf course.”

“They're both old-fashioned, traditional golf courses,” agreed defending PGA champion Rory McIlroy. “I think the fairways at Oak Hill have probably got a little more bend to them. You've got to shape a lot of shots at Oak Hill. Here the fairways are just sort of straight out in front of you. But the greens are similar. They're quite small, slope-y. And the par 3s here and the par 3s at Oak Hill are strong holes, and you're going to have to hit some good iron shots.”

Success at one venue doesn’t always bode well for success at the next, even when the two courses can be viewed as similar tracks. If any of this week’s competitors are seeking a little extra inspiration, though, they need only look back to a few weeks ago, when Mickelson prevailed on a true links course for the first time in his career at the Scottish Open, then triumphed one week later at The Open Championship.

Afterward, he credited the pre-major victory for giving him the momentum to win again and the belief that it could happen on a similar course.

It’s well within reason to think that a week and a half from now, a player will hoist the Wanamaker Trophy aloft, then credit his success at Firestone as the impetus for that victory.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.