With Woods out, Rose and Congressional shine

By John FeinsteinJune 30, 2014, 12:05 am

BETHESDA, Md. – It was a long, strange week at Congressional Country Club.

A week before the first Quicken Loans National began – Quicken Loans having taken over for AT&T as title sponsor – the tournament’s outlook was, to put it politely, bleak.

Ticket sales were down, sponsorships were down, the field appeared to lack star power and the pro-am wasn’t even close to being a sellout. The only good news was a promising weather report.

Then, on the Friday afternoon before tournament week, it all changed. At 3 o’clock – two hours before the deadline – Tiger Woods committed to play. In addition to being a 14-time major champion and the world’s most famous golfer, Woods is the tournament host, since the charity that benefits from the event is his foundation.

If President Obama had announced the end of all wars that afternoon in Washington, it would not have been quite as big a story as Woods saying he was coming to play at Congressional.

And so, on Tuesday, Woods arrived.

He spent 35 minutes talking to the media – about double the time he normally spends in a pre-tournament news conference – and said that, yes, he was playing because this was his event and, even though it might have been safer to rest his surgically repaired back for another week or two, he wanted to give it a try.

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Woods’ every step, every swing was analyzed, from his session on the range Tuesday to his performance in the pro-am Wednesday to his rounds of 74 and 75 Thursday and Friday that left him four shots above the cut line.

Through it all he was decidedly un-snappish about his poor play and even said he felt very good about what had happened because “there were no setbacks.”

That was the most important Woods news of the week, even if he did sound like almost every golfer who has ever put a tee in the ground when he insisted Friday that he was “just a foot off here and there.”

On his way out the door, Woods stopped for a solid six or seven minutes – close to a personal best – to sign autographs. But then he was gone, deciding not to return to present the trophy on Sunday. Tournament director Mike Antolini told The Washington Post that the tournament staff had told Woods not to come back because he needed to rest.

And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.

With Woods – and Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley and Jason Day – gone for the weekend, the leaderboard was filled with solid names but only one true star: Justin Rose.

A win by Patrick Reed, after all the grief he took for declaring himself one of the top five players in the world following his win at Doral, would have been a nice story. If Shawn Stefani had become the 10th first-time winner on Tour this season by making his 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole, his victory would have been a neat story about a 32-year-old grinder who had never finished higher than fifth in a PGA Tour event.

In the end though, the stars of the week were Rose and the golf course.

Ever since 2011, when Rory McIlroy blitzed a course softened by a rainy spring and won the U.S. Open by shooting 268, the lowest score in Open history, Congressional’s membership has been upset about the beating McIlroy gave their storied layout.

The members left Sunday feeling a lot more sanguine about things when the players faced a dry, fast, firm golf course for the last 36 holes. Four players held the lead on Friday at 6 under par. Saturday, Reed was the only player still at 6 under. By Sunday Rose and Stefani were playing off at 4 under.

“If Patrick Reed shoots even par today no one’s going to come close to catching him,” predicted Steve Hulka, caddie for Brian Davis, just before the leaders teed off. “That is a brutal golf course out there now, and it’s only going to get tougher.”

If Reed had shot 71 he would have won easily. But he found water at 10 and at the diabolical 11th and double-bogeyed both holes. By the time he limped home with a back-nine 41 and a 77 for the day, he had dropped to a tie for 11th place.

Even though there was little humidity on Saturday and Sunday, players came off the 18th green looking exhausted. It was the U.S. Open two weeks after the U.S. Open.

Which is why it wasn’t that surprising to see Rose steadily moving up the leaderboard. He has typically played his best on the sternest tests, dating to 1998 when he burst on the scene at the British Open as a 17-year-old amateur and tied for fourth place.

Rose shot 2 over par for the week, two shots behind playoff winner Mark O’Meara and runner-up Brian Watts. A year ago, when Rose won the U.S. Open at Merion, his winning score was 1 over.

That’s why he didn’t panic when he was 4 over par after his first nine holes on Thursday. He managed to stay in the ballgame by shooting 74 and then came in with a 65 on Friday, which turned out to be the low round of the week.

“The golf course got very bouncy and firm and fiery on Saturday,” Rose said. “It was set up hard and I liked that. Sometimes when a course plays tough on Saturday, the Tour officials back it off on Sunday. They didn’t, which I liked. It felt like a championship golf course.”

Rose probably won the tournament on Sunday in the stretch around the turn. On Saturday he played Nos. 9, 10 and 11 in 6-3-6. Sunday, it was 4-3-3 – including a birdie at the almost impossible 11th hole.

“That’s a shot and a half on the field,” he said. “Especially after Saturday, that really got my heart pumping.”

Even though Rose spent the last few holes fighting a miss-left off the tee, he made several tough up-and-downs – including one for par on 17 and one for bogey on 18 after finding the water – he managed to piece together a gutsy 1-under 70. That got him into the playoff with Stefani, who ended most of the suspense when his second shot found a similar spot in the water that Rose had found in regulation.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, the drive leading up to Congressional’s clubhouse was lined with flags showing players who were in the tournament. The very first flag on the morning before Woods committed was of Rose. By the next morning, he had been moved back several rows, replaced at the front by Woods.

“It’s his tournament, that’s fine with me,” Rose said earlier in the week when he heard about his demotion. Then he smiled. “Maybe by Sunday, I’ll make them move me back up front.”

As it turned out, he called his shot.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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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."