Keep your happiness to yourself, OK?

By John FeinsteinOctober 19, 2011, 6:21 pm

It is impossible to escape the irony. Disney World is, as the marketers tell us, “the happiest place on earth.”

The two golf courses – the Magnolia and the Palm – both have holes that are close enough to the theme park that one can hear the happiness coming from the rides and, often, the sound of the famous Disney train.

It’s the perfect place to escape the realities of life.

Except that the golf this week at the Mag and the Palm is about as real as it gets on the PGA Tour. For some players, Disney is a fun week, a place to come with your family and make one last check before the year ends while earning father/husband points along the way.

But for many this week there is nothing fun about being surrounded by so much happiness. The shrieks of joy coming from the park sound more taunting than anything else as players plow through four days of trying to save their job for another year.

“There are times,” Brian Claar said several years ago, “that you want to turn around when you hear the train or people shouting and say, ‘Will you please shut up!’ ”

Claar, now a rules official on the Champions Tour, is as calm and likeable a person as anyone who has ever played golf for a living. But when he came to Disney knowing he needed a top-20 finish to avoid returning to Qualifying School, it was impossible for him to keep that calm demeanor on Sunday afternoon.

Players always know what they need to do to reach a goal – Claar knew he was one birdie shy of where he needed to be as he plodded through the final holes. He had several chances but couldn’t convert. Just as he tapped in for par at 18, fighting tears by then, one could hear the train whistle from Disney loud and clear.

A couple of years after that, Frank Lickliter was in a similar position as Claar. Lickliter is NOT one of the more easy-going players on Tour and, even behind sunglasses, the tension on his face was evident the final few holes. A bogey on No. 17 ended his chances of keeping his card. Walking off the green Lickliter couldn’t keep his emotions in check and his wayward putter ended up in the pond near the green.

Jeff Sluman was playing with Lickliter that day. Sluman understood what Lickliter was going through and had tried very hard to stay out of his way all day. But when the putter found the pond, Sluman couldn’t resist.

“I gave you a 9.5 Frank,” he said as Lickliter walked onto the 18th tee after the putter had been retrieved.

If Lickliter found that funny he didn’t show it.

This week will be no different. While most of those who show up to watch will focus on Luke Donald’s attempt to run Webb Simpson down for the money title, there will be players dealing with a lot more pressure than Donald or Simpson. Sure, either one would love to finish on top of the money list and earn the five-year exemption that comes with it. If either wins the event, he will likely win the Player of the Year award.

But Donald and Simpson have won millions already this year and their spots on the Tour are secure for at least three years (Simpson) and two years (Donald) regardless of what happens this weekend.

The same cannot be said for many of those fighting for a spot in the top 125 or the top 150 on the money list. The Tour showed a little bit of humor when it paired Robert Gates and James Driscoll for the first two rounds. Gates and Driscoll are 124th and 125th on the money list and hanging on for dear life. Still, they’re in better shape than those outside the top 125 – although Bill Lunde at No. 126 is comfortable since he won last year and is exempt through 2012.

That can’t be said for Billy Horschel (No. 133) who last week at Sea Island appeared on the verge of at least a top-five finish and a big enough check to wrap up a spot in the top 125. But Horschel spun back late on Sunday and ended up improving only from 139th to 133rd. Now, he’s down to one last chance to avoid a trip to Q-School.

At least Horschel knows that his worst-case scenario is going to Q-School finals. Players who finish between 126th and 150th retain a partial exemption for next year, meaning that they will get into events when not enough fully exempt players show up to play. That usually means about a dozen starts unless you pick up some sponsor exemptions. And it means you automatically qualify for Q-School finals without having to go back to second stage.

Outside the top 150 is purgatory. If you haven’t won at least once on Tour you are no longer a member and have to go back to the second stage of Q-School and are guaranteed nothing for next year. As Disney begins, the player sitting just outside the top 150 at No. 151 is David Duval.

Duval won’t be in complete purgatory if he doesn’t make the cut, but he’ll be close. As a past Tour winner, he’ll still have membership status and will be able to get into tournaments on sponsor exemptions the way John Daly has in recent years. As a past British Open champion, Duval isn’t likely to be turned down by anyone he asks for an exemption.

But he isn’t thrilled about the idea of having to ask. “I don’t like to depend on the kindness of strangers in order to play golf,” he said with a smile.

Duval has already used up the one-year exemption he earned by being in the top 25 on the all-time money list and another exemption for being in the top 50. If Justin Leonard (currently No. 144) doesn’t jump into the top 125 this week, he will use his exemption next year as the 10th-leading money winner of all time. Duval no longer has that option. If he doesn’t at least make the top 150 he would face going back to second stage if he wants any status beyond past champion for next year. He hadn’t even planned to play at Disney but, after missing the cut last week, decided to play.

“I can’t really do myself much good unless I win there but the only way to win is to tee it up and compete,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing well enough to do that but I have to show up to have a chance.”

Duval hasn’t won on Tour since the 2001 British Open at Royal Lytham. But he still has hope and the belief that he can play well again. So, he will be out there grinding along with all the others who know this is the last chance they will get to be able to live “The Life” again next year.

Last year Robert Garrigus came to Disney sitting 122nd on the money list. He figured he had to at least finish in the top 20 to keep his card. He won. A year later, he’s here with a big smile on his face knowing he’s exempt through 2012 regardless of what happens this weekend.

“It feels so different,” he said. “All I’m thinking about right now is winning again. I like the golf courses and I feel relaxed and confident.”

He can afford to feel relaxed. The same isn’t true of Gates or Driscoll; Horschel or Duval and a host of others who will feel every bit of tension there is to feel when they tee it up on Thursday. Some will come through and leave Disney with a big smile the way Garrigus did last year.

Others will leave with an uncertain future and a lot to be concerned about. And you can bet they’ll want to tell that damn train to shut up on their way out of town.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

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.

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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

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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 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.


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."

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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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.