NTO champ Watson grateful for his blessings

By Randall MellFebruary 17, 2014, 2:18 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba Watson couldn’t help himself in the end.

After seizing the Northern Trust Open by the throat in a spectacular display of weekend shot-making, Watson was closing out his first victory since winning the Masters two years ago in very un-Bubba-like fashion.

The guy who gets himself around with a hot pink driver, the General Lee car from Dukes of Hazzard fame and sometimes a Hovercraft golf cart was driving the speed limit coming home Sunday at historic Riviera.

The guy who won that Masters in spectacular fashion with a giant, hooking escape shot out of the trees in a playoff seemed determined to close out his fifth PGA Tour title with the kind of buttoned-up golf that would make a corporate banker proud.

He was closing out with an impressive run of pars at the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes.

In the end, though, Watson couldn’t help putting his signature flair on this win, too.

He did it without even trying.

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With Dustin Johnson waiting to see if a playoff might be in the making, Watson stuffed a wedge to 14 feet at the 18th hole. And then Watson buried the birdie putt, securing a two-shot win that ignited a roar through the gallery gathered under the picturesque Riviera clubhouse.

“I wasn’t even trying to make the putt, to be honest,” Watson said. “I was just trying to lag it in there so I could tap it in. Somehow, it fell in.”

Of course it did.

Watson was spectacular all weekend, shooting a pair of 64s without making a single bogey. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Lanny Wadkins have all won at Riviera, but none of them closed out with a better weekend.

Watson’s birdie at the last was a fitting exclamation point.

“I love this place, this course,” Watson said. “The history behind this tournament, the people who’ve played in this tournament. It’s incredible. For me to be a part of this now is amazing.”

Who could have seen this coming?

Watson, 35, may love Riviera, but his record here wasn’t very good coming into this week. He didn’t make the cut three of the last four times he teed it up here.

This week didn’t start very well, either. Watson made double bogey at his first hole (No. 10) on Thursday and then double bogeyed his third hole in the first round, too. He made another double bogey in the second round.

Somehow, some way, Watson put it all together on the weekend. His 64 was the best closing round by a winner at Riviera since Doug Tewell closed with a 63 in 1986. There is no record of a better weekend finish than Watson’s pair of 64s.

“He played awesome,” said Brian Harman, who tied for third playing alongside Watson. “He hits it far, and that’s a big advantage around this place. The greens were firm, and he hits his irons farther and higher and that’s a huge advantage.”

Watson wasn’t just Bubba long. He was long and straight.

Watson led the field in driving distance (318.5 yards per drive), but, more remarkably, he was eighth in driving accuracy. He was third in greens in regulation and seventh in total putting.

All of that helped Watson break through to win for the first time since the Masters almost two years ago. He said that drought wasn’t really on his mind.

“I never felt down that I hadn’t won yet, but just kept plugging along,” Watson said. “Somehow it fell in my lap.”

Watson said he might have pouted a little bit after failing to close out the Waste Management Phoenix Open in his last start two weeks ago, but he was over that, too. He wasn’t dwelling on losing a two-shot lead there in the final round with a bogey at the last.

“Me and my caddie are calling this a year about rejoicing, thinking back on how blessed we are to play the PGA Tour, how blessed we are to have a chance to win trophies, win big checks,” Watson said.

Watson was counting those blessings with his wife, Angie, and his young son, Caleb, at his side in the end. It’s the first time his son has been at a tournament Watson won.

“What an honor, what a privilege, what a blessing,” Watson said.

What a spectacular weekend Watson delivered.

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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."