Shakedown In Alabama
From his pedestal Joe graciously thanked all those who work the entire year to make this tour possible. Then he told his version of a story we heard from so many players all week long. He told of how it's with mixed emotions that every player moves up to the PGA Tour because of how much they enjoy the Nationwide Tour. The cast of characters is what makes it great and consensus opinion is that the family atmosphere that develops over the course of a year is far stronger than any other tour they've played.
Now the cast of characters will change as the 20 lead roles from this year's Nationwide Tour have now landed a part in The Show next year. Whether it's a starring role or a supporting role is to be determined, but they're guaranteed to be included in the credits.
But before next year's script could be written, the cast had to be completed at the Nationwide Tour Championship.
There was plenty of drama during the final round as various scenarios presented themselves through out the day. One such scenario was when it became possible for David Moreland IV to get bumped from the 17th position all the way out of the top 20 along with the three players immediately behind him - Craig Bowden, Brett Wetterich, and Kyle Thompson. We (Curt Byrum and myself) had projected Moreland was safe all week. In the end he was as Wetterich and Thompson were left off stage when the curtain dropped, and Tommy Tolles along with D.J. Brigman played their way on. However, strange things were happening all over the place on Sunday.
Brigman jumped into the top 20 in the most dramatic fashion. But jumping doesn't scare him. Four weeks ago, D.J. went along with six of the tour wives for a skydiving expedition. Now he has jumped onto the PGA Tour. Just two weeks ago, he was in 85th position on the money list. D.J. didn't figure into our equation at all on Sunday until a late birdie barrage put him in position for a chance at a solo-second place finish - the minimum he needed to get into the top 20. In one of the week's more compelling moments, D.J. drained a 10-footer on the difficult 18th to get him to the PGA Tour.
Tjaart van der Walt and Daniel Chopra were the true casualties. Both players entered the day needing to play merely a solid round of golf. Neither did. Chopra bogeyed every-other hole from the 12th hole in'including a final, devastating bogey at the last hole. Brigman played the 18th needing birdie to get his card, and he knew it. Chopra needed par, although there was no way for him to be sure what he needed, and came up short with a final-round 76 when just a 75 would have done it.
But he wasnt the only one.
Van der Walt could have shot a final round 76 and still finished inside the top-20. Once again, there was no way he could have known exactly what he needed. But, his edge-of-her-seat, exuberant, and most loyal fan'wife Phillipa'kept asking as we went along. All day from the 8th hole on, he was exactly one shot from the top 20. He played very solid on the back nine after starting his day double-double on the first two holes. Then, finally on the reachable par-5 17th hole, Tjaart holed a seven-footer for his first birdie of the day. He was in, and only in need of a par at 18. An errant drive that drew a terrible lie resulted in a lay up 50 yards short of the hole. From there, a sub-standard pitch and a narrowly missed 45-footer, and Tjaart was headed back to Q-School.
Although it was pretty obvious that both Chopra and Van der Walt were immersed in a struggle against their nerves, when it was all done, they both handled the disappointment with as much class as Ive ever witnessed. Sooner or later, this wacky game will deal everyone their share of adversity. And when faced with this overwhelming disappointment, their true characters were revealed. The pair might not have been up to the task inside the ropes on Sunday, but they did provide testament to what Joe Ogilvie was saying later in the night. The people who make up the Nationwide Tour are as good as it gets.
Tommy Tolles looked safely inside the top 20, even though he missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the last. However, after Brigman birdied the last two and Tjaart birdied number 17, Tolles was then bound for 21st position on the money list. Tjaarts final hole determined the fate of two people. And now, one of the best human beings Ive ever met is on his way back to the PGA Tour.
Tommy kissed his two children goodbye on July 28th and he hasnt been home since. He decided to gut it out and play every tournament until he made enough money to guarantee a spot in the top 20. It was a very tough stretch on his family. His kids would sometimes make phone conversations difficult because their emotions were obvious in the sadness of daddy being gone for so long. And mom was gone for much of the time as well. She was out caddying for her husband much the same way they did together when Tommy was forging his career 10 plus years ago.
But trust me, the person who felt the most heartache was Tommy. Hes the most devoted father and husband I know, and being away from his children for so long was eating at him inside more than hell ever admit. A heart to heart with his wife on Friday night is what Tommy said inspired his 65 on Saturday. Ive known Tommy and Ilse since 1991, and the only other time I can remember that Ilse demanded the floor during one of Tommys struggles, Tommy responded with rounds of 65 and 66 at the second stage of Q-School. Im pretty sure that was the same year he earned his PGA Tour card.
Tommy and Ilse drove the five hours back to Flat Rock, N. C., first thing Monday morning. It took every last tournament for Tommy to earn that PGA Tour card, and he made it by a mere $1,200. But now Wiekus and Hannah Tolles have daddy home, and daddy proved to himself that he still has what it takes to succeed. When Tommys game was at its best, he qualified for the PGA Tour Championship twice. Like everyone else in the top 20, Tommy enjoyed the atmosphere this year on The Nationwide Tour, but his dream is to never play in the Nationwide Tour Championship again.
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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.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
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."
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."