Rory shines, Spieth stumbles in Players opener

By Randall MellMay 7, 2015, 8:01 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy was in fighter pilot stride.

Clad in black, marching confidently with that familiar little bounce in his step, McIlroy was on the leaderboard early Thursday at The Players Championship. The world No. 1 had it going, rolling in an eagle putt at No. 16, his seventh hole of the day.

Jordan Spieth’s name was nowhere to be found as he stomped around his ball behind that same 16th green. You didn’t need to see his scorecard to know the world No. 2 didn’t have it going. Muttering, with his head down, Spieth couldn’t hide his frustration.

“I can’t get more screwed today,” Spieth spit through clenched teeth while looking at his ball at the bottom of a gnarly lie in the Bermuda grass a couple feet from the edge of the lake. Spieth had to balance precariously on a wooden plank bordering the water to chip. While he managed to keep from falling in, he fluffed his chip short. He made bogey to fall five shots behind McIlroy through seven holes.

McIlroy dismissed the suggestion Spieth was emerging as his chief rival in a news conference on the eve of this championship. Spieth did nothing to change McIlroy’s mind on Thursday.

Yes, it was just one day, just one bad day for Spieth.

So with McIlroy pulling up alongside Spieth after making the turn, you couldn’t help wondering what they were chatting about.

Was the 26-year-old McIlroy offering up words of encouragement to the 21-year-old?

Some big brotherly advice, perhaps?

Well, sort of.

“It’s funny, we were talking about hairstyles,” McIlroy said. “Or something like that.”

When McIlroy was 21, he let his curly black locks flow wildly from under his golf cap. Spieth’s hair is already receding, and the frustrations he endured Thursday might have quickened the process. You can only imagine where this conversation about hair turned.

“I sort of said to him, you have a green jacket, your hair can be whatever you want it to be,” McIlroy said.

With these two young stars riding winning momentum, there was excitement over the prospect we might see some first-round fireworks. McIlroy is coming off a victory at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship last week, Spieth off his Masters victory last month. There were some good moments in the grouping Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, but they all belonged to McIlroy and the third player in the trio, Jason Day.

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McIlroy conjured a roar at 16 hitting his approach to 7 feet and making that eagle.

Day punctuated his finish with back-to-back birdies.

Both McIlroy and Day shot 3-under-par 69s to get in the early hunt.

Spieth was wayward early and felt lucky to sign for a 75. His early misses ended up in bad spots, at the bottom of gnarly lies or in the face of bunker walls.

“It was unbelievable, some of the breaks today,” Spieth said.

Spieth’s marvelous short game couldn’t save him. After missing the green left at his second hole, Spieth found himself deep in Bermuda, on the side of a mound, with a downhill lie. He swiped his pitch there into the face of a greenside bunker and made bogey.

Spieth missed nine greens and managed to get up and down to save pars just four times.

A year ago, Spieth didn’t make a single bogey taking a share of the lead into the final round at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. He started bogey-bogey on Thursday. He made five bogeys on the day. He ended up tying for fourth in his first Players Championship last year. Nobody’s ever won this championship shooting 75 or worse in the first round. Spieth has some work to do to avoid missing the cut.

“Just a really, really poor day,” Spieth said. “I've got to find something to work on. Sometimes when you're hitting it really well, you just get tough breaks and you have a bad day. This wasn't one of those. I actually really need to find something on the range. Just hasn't been good ball striking this week.”

Spieth said there’s something wrong with his alignment, and he’s struggling to fix it.

“I wasn't hitting it well on the range, and I figured out I was 20 yards lined up too far right with my lower body,” Spieth said. “And then I was too far left with my shoulders . . . I'm feeling like I'm dead open hitting the golf ball and it's tough.”

McIlroy missed the cut the first three times he played The Players Championship, but he’s figuring out how to play the course. He tied for eighth two years ago, tied for sixth last year. He’s playing more conservatively, hitting few drivers. His round might have been even better, but he got a bad break at the second hole, his 11th of the day. He tried to reach that par 5 in two but his second shot hit a sprinkler head at the edge of the green and ricocheted wildly over the gallery ropes. He still made par.

“I’ve learned now what a good score is around this golf course,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy has been thriving on the back nine of architect Pete Dye’s design. He is now 24 under par on the back nine over his last six rounds at the Stadium Course. He’s 10 over on the front nine.

“There are a lot of chances on that back nine,” McIlroy said. “I just feel comfortable on it, feel comfortable on the closing stretch.”

Day thrived as the “third wheel” in the grouping.

“Everyone was like, 'Who is that guy, Andres Romero?’” Day said.

Day had to hole a 25-foot birdie to make double bogey at the 18th before making the turn. His putter was hot. He rolled in a 40-foot birdie right after making the double. He also holed a 40-foot birdie at the 14th.

“It turned an average round into a great round,” Day said.

Spieth will be looking to turn things around Friday while McIlroy will be looking to keep his fighter-pilot confidence going.

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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 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.