The Sweet Taste of Sugarloaf
It falls the week before what is perhaps the most anticipated major of the four - The Masters - and its results have no effect whatsoever on the field at Augusta. Even with those strikes against it, the BellSouth Classic came out smelling like a rose in 2002 because it drew a quality field, a fairly dramatic finish and the golf course offered a sister-like feel to Augusta National.
Who enjoyed his time spent at the TPC at Sugarloaf the most? Thats easy, the winner, Retief Goosen. If youre looking for a confidence boost heading into a major, hoisting a trophy is an instant injection of self-assurance. He takes a relatively brand new putter and seven worldwide victories in a 10-month span along with him on his ride to Magnolia Lane.
Who had the second best time? Thats a little harder to answer. Its a toss-up between Jesper Parnevik and the Hooters Tour graduate Zach Johnson. For Zach, the reasons are obvious. As a Monday qualifier, he practically made more in one event than he did in an entire season in years past.
For Jesper, its not about money. Its about winning his first major. When I had the chance to ask him how he felt about his game on a scale of 1 to 10 after shooting a Sunday 65 in extremely difficult scoring conditions, he blurted, 10!
At the start of the week, Parnevik was concerned about not being able to play a much-needed draw off the tee for his go at The Masters. By weeks end, he told me he seems to have worked it out.
Whats truly amazing about the success stories of all these men is they can be overshadowed by the simple fact that Phil Mickelson didnt win.
Coming off of a three-week stretch in which Lefty faced much criticism about his aggressive style of play, Phil was under the microscope at the BellSouth Classic, just like hell be at The Masters. Once again, Mickelson had the opportunity to bring home the first place check thanks a two shot lead over Retief Goosen with only 14 holes remaining in the tournament, and once again, Mickelson was left answering questions about the one that got away.
You must respect the fact that this 20-time PGA Tour winner continues to give himself chances, and you must empathize with his duty to address those nagging two-foot putts that seem to plague him as of late. But the bottom line is, when is he going to win that first major title?
It is a question we all want answered, including Phil. But just for a moment, put all of those repetitive thoughts aside and ask yourself who are your top three favorite golfers to watch. Does the worlds No. 2 golfer make your list? Think about the drama he provides - last years Masters, last years PGA Championship, the 2002 Bay Hill Invitational and the Players Championship - he always seems to be there and he always leaves us wanting more.
While Phil continues his steadfast effort to play through the judgment that comes his way, he always seems to contend. His colleagues Davis Love and David Duval didnt win a major until they turned 30. Mickelson even said that the next 10 years are going to be his biggest window of opportunity on the PGA Tour.
Hes flashy, hes talented and he has a way of catching the critics eye. You get the feeling that come the back nine on Sunday at Augusta, the name 'Mickelson' will be right there.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
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.
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.