Henley survives PGA National for second Tour win

By Randall MellMarch 3, 2014, 1:26 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Finally, mercifully, Russell Henley ended the calamity.

When he rolled in a 3-foot putt for birdie on the first sudden-death playoff hole Sunday, it didn’t feel as if he won the Honda Classic so much as he survived it.

They didn’t need caddies coming down the stretch here at PGA National.

They needed EMTs, somebody trained to perform game-saving Heimlich maneuvers.

Chances to win kept sticking in players’ throats.

Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox, Ryan Palmer and even Henley all coughed up chances to win on a back-nine fraught with nervy misfired shots.

Henley ultimately won the four-man playoff because he misfired the least. He won because he made the fewest mistakes coming home and because he hit the best shots in the playoff.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Henley said after claiming his second PGA Tour title.

McIlroy was so disenchanted with his back-nine effort, he said winning wouldn’t have felt right.

“I didn’t play well enough at all to deserve to win this tournament,” McIlroy said.

The PGA Tour once marketed itself on the saying “These guys are good.” It didn’t look that way for the longest time on the back nine at PGA National. It looked like “These guys can really shake in their boots.”

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Video: Hear from dark-horse winner Russell Henley

Really, mostly, it was a reminder just how hard it is to win a PGA Tour event, especially on a golf course that punishes mistakes so severely.

“It’s a tough course, especially when you’re in the thick of things,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard to make birdies coming down the stretch there.”

Henley, 24, started the day two shots behind McIlroy and won with a 2-over-par 72. He won shaking off a cold start to the new year missing three of his last four cuts.

Henley won with an inauspicious start to the Bear Trap, the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. There’s a large statue of a bear there in honor of “The Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus, who designed the trio of holes. The inscription at Bear Trap entry reads: “It should be won or lost right here.”

Henley must not have read it. He rinsed his tee shot at the 15th, pushing a 6-iron into the water and making double bogey. He was playing alongside McIlroy and fell two shots behind him there.

“The swing on 15, I didn’t really see coming,” Henley said. “I looked up, and it was kind of fading, and I was a little bit shocked by that.”

Give Henley credit. He wasn’t undone by it. He was undaunted.

“I knew I was going to hang in there no matter what happened,” Henley said. “I wasn’t going to let it bother me.”

The Bear Trap took its toll on McIlroy, too.

Despite one pulled, tugged or hooked shot after another, McIlroy somehow managed to still hold the lead before his approach out of a fairway bunker at the 16th splashed short in the water in front of the green. The man who had fiercely closed every 54-hole lead he has held since collapsing in the final round of the Masters in 2011 wasn’t going to close out this one.

“It was very disappointing,” McIlroy said. “It was a perfect opportunity to win.”

McIlroy looked like he might still pull off the win with a magical 5-wood into the 18th, a towering 236-yard shot that landed like it hit a pillow, checking up 11 feet from the hole.

A shot off the lead, McIlroy was putting for eagle and the win, but he pushed it right.

Henley held his breath watching.

“I wasn’t a very comfortable feeling,” Henley said. “I still just tried to hang in there the best I could and not let my emotions get too up or down, no matter what happened on his putt.”

McIlroy closed with a 74.

“Just got to pick myself up, get back at it and try get myself into contention at Doral next week and get the job done then,” McIlroy said.

Henley wasn’t even qualified to play the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral next week. His win gets him there. He’s from Macon, Ga., and played at the University of Georgia. The frosting on his win is that it gets him back into the Masters again, too.

“This is not exactly what I was expecting at the start of the week,” Henley said.

Nor an ending anyone saw coming.

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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

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."