Dufner no longer waiting to exhale at Memorial

By Nick MentaJune 2, 2017, 10:34 pm

DUBLIN Ohio –Jason Dufner’s play thus far at Muirfield Village has largely resembled his performance from four years ago at Oak Hill save for one key difference.

He’s putting better.

Dufner blitzed Muirfield again Friday morning, posting his second consecutive round of 7-under 65 to sit atop the leaderboard at the Memorial (as pictured here.

He’ll head into the weekend five shots ahead of his nearest challenger, Daniel Summerhays, and six clear of Rickie Fowler.

Dufner leads the field in putts per green in regulation and is 30 for 32 on putts holed from inside 10 feet this week.

When he captured his lone major title at the 2013 PGA Championship, he put on a ball-striking clinic that more than made up for his shaky putting, particularly from close range.

But with his putting vastly improved thanks to a new breathing technique, Dufner is feeling freed up to play his best golf.

“When you’re not holing putts, it puts more pressure on every part of your game,” he said. “You feel like you have to get your irons closer, take more chances from time to time. … You feel like your chipping and your pitching has to be perfect so you can make pars when you need to. You feel like your lag putting has to be good if you’re not holing putts. It can manifest itself into something you don’t want out there.”

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Through 36 holes, his success on the greens has made his ball-striking that much more devastating. Dufner has hit 21 of 28 fairways and 31 of 36 greens, including 17 of 18 on Thursday. When he has missed the putting surface, he’s gone 4 for 5 scrambling to save par. He dropped his only shot of the week at the 18th hole Thursday and made up for it with an eagle hole-out there on Friday.

In the process, Dufner set a new 36-hole Memorial scoring record, topping the previous 13-under mark set by Scott Hoch (1987) and Rickie Fowler (2012). It’s been a dominant performance from a guy who at one point cut this event from his schedule.

After missed cuts and four rounds in the 70s in his first two starts at Muirfield Village, Dufner opted to skip the Memorial for three straight years, from 2011-2013.

But he was forced to come back as a member of the victorious 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team. He went 3-1 that week, pairing with Zach Johnson and winning his singles match over Brendon de Jonge, 4 and 3. It was at the Presidents Cup that Dufner picked the brains of some of his teammates and finally started feeling comfortable on a track that had previously frustrated him.

“How do you play these holes? How do you play these situations?” he would ask. “I played a lot with Zach, Matt Kuchar. Tiger was on the team. He’s pretty good around this track. I think [Jim] Furyk helped me out, Davis Love a little bit.

“I was able to use that and come back and have success. … Now it’s one of the events that don’t really want to miss and feel like I can play well.”

Since returning to the Memorial in 2014, Dufner’s worst finish is a T-33 he posted last year, and his performance through two days is eerily reminiscent of what he did here in 2015.

Two years ago, he hit 17 of 18 greens in Round 1, missing only on 18, just as he did this week. He also held the lead at one point on Friday thanks to an ace at the par-3 16th. This year, it was an eagle at the home hole.

But unlike in 2015, Dufner was up a whopping six shots when he met with the media mid-day Friday. Asked if he’s ever had to protect a lead that large, he flatlined:

“I can’t remember. I haven’t won many tournaments, so probably not.”

The four-time PGA Tour winner is aware he’s unlikely to go another 14 under on the weekend, but he isn’t thinking about it.

“To be honest, tomorrow is another day,” he said. “I’m working on my breathing.”

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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.

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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.