New Year New Work New Fun
And as host of the Golf Channels Sprint Pre-Game and Sprint Post-Game shows Im pretty enthusiastic about the year ahead. For the first time since 1997, the money list doesnt seem to be a lock for Tiger Woods and neither does the PGA Tour Player of the Year honor.
Ill never bet against him, and Im still calling him the favorite. But after a week watching the play at the Mercedes Championships and talking with players both on and off the set, confidence appears higher for everyone and nobody seems to be conceding anything!
If you saw the shows, you caught a new-look Darren Clarke. Hes sporting slimmer pants and a tighter game after losing some 30 pounds. Clarkes been hitting the gym with more enthusiasm than he used to exert at tournament watering holes and it really shows.
At the Target World Challenge I rode a bike and did my customary treadmill routine while watching Clarke do sit-up after sit-up, throw jabs with the gloves and pump iron until he was red in the face. Thursday night at Kapalua he tossed a few jabs our way on the set and had us laughing about his seriousness. Clarke finished third.
Beware of the two guys who battled at last years PGA Championship. Shaun Micheel and Chad Campbell joined us and talked about being more recognizable and more focused than a year ago.
Chads going to be a superstar. Hes the complete package and interestingly enough talked about not having goals for the year. Perhaps he doesnt want to limit himself.
Micheel is as good a guy as they come. Hell walk up to folks like me basically asking if theres anything he can do to help. Im serious. And, unlike Campbell, hes got goals. Missing out on the Tour Championship (that Campbell won) was a pain.
Did you catch our chat with Freddie? Fred Couples is struggling with his back, banking on buddy Davis Love III to have another monster year, and is very caught up in the Golf Channels BIG BREAK.
He spent time on-camera talking about wanting to captain a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team someday and spent even more time off-camera watching NFL playoff football and waxing about how hed like to be the host of BIG BREAK II or III or IV.
And Couples is also a big fan of Vijay these days. Look out, Fred says, hes just hitting his stride. By the way, we tossed Couples a Golf Channel hat for the time (like we do many of the players) and he said, This is for me? The next day Couples said thanks again for the hat.
The point that comes across more and more as we take our show on the road is just how thankful these world-class players seem to be toward what were doing at The Golf Channel.
Craig Stadler and Peter Jacobsen joined Brian Hewitt, Mark Rolfing and me as well. So, too, did Masters champ Mike Weir, Ernie Els, Kenny Perry, J.L. Lewis and of course the years first winner, Appleby.
Yankee-turned-Astro Andy Pettitt also came aboard after an offer I threw him in the hotel lobby, and now un-retired Astros pithcer Roger Clemens was upset that he couldnt.
Michelle Wie jumped at the chance and so did others. Dont get me wrong, were very lucky for their cooperative nature, but I really get the feeling that they feel like its their great opportunity, too! I think it comes across.
One more thing before I go: I hope you like Steve Flesch. The left-hander who won last year at New Orleans and has a world of talent wants a piece of our action. And weve come up with a forum.
Beginning Wednesday night on the Sprint Pre-Game, In the Flesch debuts from the Sony Open. His locker room insight, his range gossip thats fit to share will hit the air. He wants it to be fun and light-hearted. I cant wait. And oh, yeah. I also cant wait to share more of what we do, who we run into, whos working on the show with me, and what I think is fit to print in a new column that will appear each Friday on the Golf Channel.com.
Until then, do like me, and get excited about whats to come in 2004!
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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.