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Hot Seat: DJ's distance puts heat on governing bodies

By Randall MellJanuary 10, 2018, 7:09 pm

Who turned up the thermostats at the USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. and The R&A offices in St. Andrews, Scotland, this week?

Blame it on Dustin Johnson.

His Ruthian blast while winning Sunday in Hawaii must make the seats of USGA executive director Mike Davis and R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers feel a little hotter starting the new year. With Johnson nearly holing out with driver at the 433-yard 12th hole, the distance debate escalates for both the USGA and the R&A.

The Hot Seat is back at GolfChannel.com, and here are the folks who are on it this week as we try to gauge the level of heat they’re facing ...

Bunson burner heat: Mike Davis and Martin Slumbers

Is this the year golf’s governing bodies force a showdown with ball and club manufacturers? The work R&D departments have done with polymers in their high-tech laboratories is helping players hit the ball farther than they ever have. So is the work they’re doing with shafts and drivers.

But is it helping or hurting the game?

When Davis said in November that the distance players are hitting the ball is having a “horrible” impact on the game, it was a pretty big clue where he stands on the question. Can you say that as the USGA’s point man and not try to do something about it? It sounded like it might be a call to arms.

Davis and Slumbers earn high praise for their leadership helping to oversee a modernization of the Rules of Golf, a monumental task in helping make the rules simpler and easier to understand, but they are tasked with something even more complicated if they dare to try to restrict the ball this year. They didn’t create this mess, but they inherited it with previous administrations failing to reign in manufacturers.

Was Johnson’s blast good for the game or bad for it?

The question is worth repeating because there may be no more complicated question in golf to answer. If the USGA and R&A answer no to the question, there’s no simple way to solve the problem, whether you like the idea of bifurcation or not.


Jason Day and Rory McIlroy


DJ-style grill-flamed barbecue: Rory McIlroy and Jason Day

Yes, McIlroy and Day won’t be teeing it up at the Sony Open in Hawaii this week, but these gifted former world No. 1s must feel like the stakes were raised in their bids to claim back the game’s most important titles and awards after Johnson’s tour-de-force performance Sunday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

McIlroy and Day have the kind of firepower it takes to dominate the way Johnson is threatening to do.

After off years with unique challenges, with McIlroy slipping to No. 11 in the world rankings and Day to No. 13, there’s excitement building to see what answers they have for the statement Johnson made. These giant talents, with their raw power, are capable of fireworks displays every bit as mesmerizing as Johnson.



Island fever: Jim “Bones” Mackay

Mackay is quickly growing into his role as a roving TV course reporter, showing the promise of being as special with a microphone in hand as he is with a bag on his shoulder, but he is leaving his TV gig for a one-week return to serving as caddie at the Sony Open. Mackay promises to stay in the spotlight there carrying the bag of Justin Thomas, last year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Mackay will go down as one of the greatest caddies who ever toted a bag, but this marks the first time he’ll loop on Tour since he put down Phil Mickelson’s bag last summer. After 25 years with Mickelson, it will be strange to see Mackay on somebody else’s bag.

Mackay, who is helping out while Thomas’ regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, heals up from a foot injury, will be doing his best to help Thomas get off to another great year, and there has to be some pressure in that, even as accustomed to pressure as Mackay is.

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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.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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.