Rookies play like veterans in Honda Round 1

By Randall MellFebruary 23, 2017, 9:07 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – There’s something different about these rookies today.

They don’t act like rookies.

Hall of Famers who understand the pecking order in professional sports, who know the alpha-male nature of men’s athletics at the highest level, are observing this.

Johnny Bench, maybe the greatest catcher who ever played Major League Baseball, shook his head watching rookies Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan take a share of the lead Thursday at the Honda Classic. Bench loves golf. He strolled PGA National in the first round with Pro Links Sports executive director Hollis Cavner.

Bench said back when he regularly played the pro-ams at the Doral PGA Tour stop, he could tell who the rookies were. They were the guys almost apologetically trying to wedge their way into open spots on the driving range.

Not anymore.

“They come out of college, and they’re ready,” Bench said.

With 6-under-par 64s, Gribble and Bryan are tied for the lead at the Honda Classic.

Gribble won his second start as a rookie back in October, claiming the Sanderson Farms Championship. Now, he’s in early position to make a run at his second title in just his 11th start.

Bryan is looking for his first PGA Tour title in his 10th start.

The rookie duo finished the morning wave two shots ahead of Ben Crane and Graham DeLaet and three ahead of a pack of players that includes rookie Ryan Blaum.

The Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

With a flood of 20-somethings winning this season, long apprenticeships no longer appear to be required before winning.

Ten of the 14 PGA Tour events staged this season have been won by players in their 20s.

Gribble, 26, played with Jordan Spieth on the University of Texas team that won the NCAA title in 2012. Spieth has already won nine PGA Tour titles, two of them majors. Gribble also played against Justin Thomas in college. Thomas has won twice this year.

“I think, definitely, that gives you a bit of confidence, knowing that it's definitely doable and you belong here,” Gribble said. “On the course, I think my talent will prove itself, and, obviously it did this fall. I had a couple of really good years on the, and it was just kind of my time.”

Bryan, 26, made a run at winning Sunday at the Genesis Open. He tied for fourth.

“Every time you tee it up, the object is to win,” Bryan said. “Every time I put it in the ground, I fully expect to get in contention and have a chance to win on Sunday.

“Obviously, you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win out here, but you’ve got to keep that mentality.”

Gribble didn’t bring the kind of momentum to the Honda Classic that Bryan did. Since his victory in the fall, Gribble has cooled off. He has missed his last four cuts.

But there was fire back in Gribble’s shot-making Thursday. He hit all 18 greens in regulation on the difficult Champion Course (where lift, clean and place was in effect). Nobody has done that since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National 10 years ago.

“It was good,” Gribble said. “Had a good session with my teacher [Randy Smith]. Hit a lot of good-quality iron shots. Had a rough couple weeks and was really struggling. Got a few things to work on but played well. When you have a lot of 20-footers, you're going to make a couple.”

Bryan, who was known more for his YouTube trick-shot artistry and Golf Channel "Big Break" appearances before breaking through as a Tour pro, won three times on the Tour last year.

Gribble and Bryan share some history at PGA National’s Champion Course. They both played their way through Q-School finals at PGA National in 2015.

“It's so tricky and challenging around the greens,” Bryan said. “It's a big, long golf course with tight fairways. Most of the teeth comes from, really, 30 or 40 yards and in.

“Fourteen months ago at Q-School, I was able to navigate it and finished Top 10 that week. I just kind of continued that play today.”

Bryan and Gribble continued to play PGA National like veterans.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook played a six-hole stretch in 6 under and shot an 8-under 64 in breezy conditions Saturday to take the lead at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook began the run at La Quinta Country Club with birdies on Nos. 4-5, eagled the sixth and added birdies on No. 7 and 9 to make the turn in 6-under 30.

After a bogey on the 10th, he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 15 and saved par on the 18th with a 20-footer to take a 19-under 197 total into the final round on PGA West's Stadium Course. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player is making his first start in the event. He won at Sea Island in November for his first PGA Tour title.

Fellow former Razorbacks star Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were a stroke back. Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 on the Stadium Course. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. They are both winless on the PGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Jon Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium Course to reach 17 under. The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

Scott Piercy also was two strokes back after a 66 at the Stadium.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Harkins shot 68 on the Stadium Course.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium Course to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time.

The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. The Southern California recruit had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over for the week.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine – and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Mickelson misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.