Splendor in the 'grass: Sawgrass shows its softer side

By Randall MellMay 13, 2016, 12:57 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Maybe this was golf’s version of whistling through a graveyard.

The game’s best giddily paraded around the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course Thursday morning with more smiles, back slaps and fist pumps than we’re accustomed to seeing around here.

The Players Championship was more Fun House than House of Horrors, even for the afternoon wave.

It played more like the second CareerBuilder Challenge of the season than the fifth major.

Somewhere, Pete Dye must have been grinding his teeth.

The famed architect watched Jason Day go record low (20 under) for 72 holes at the PGA Championship last summer on his Whistling Straits design, and watched him equal the Stadium Course Thursday record with a 63.

“Today was the most gettable I’ve ever seen it,” said Justin Rose, who shot 65. “I was surprised to see it so soft because there hasn’t been a drop of rain all week.”

There were 12 scores of 66 or better, the most in any single round since The Players Championship moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982.

“Today was the day you had to get it,” Bill Haas said after posting a 65.

Dye’s course can be a maddening puzzle for pros to figure out, with its deceptive angles, optical illusions and hidden trouble. Dye had them scratching their heads again Thursday, but this time players were trying to figure out how their games suddenly came together here.

Shane Lowry fired the first 29 ever on the back nine of The Players at the Stadium Course.

“I had no confidence coming here,” Lowry said. “My game felt poor last week. I almost wasn’t looking forward to the week.”

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Apparently, you don’t have to come to The Players with your A-game. You can find it here.

Cameron Tringale did, too, shooting 65.

“My results haven’t been very good coming into this week, to be honest,” Tringale said.

Hudson Swafford shot 66 in his first round ever at The Players. He arrived having missed three consecutive cuts.

“The greens were receptive,” Swafford said. “It was kind of shocking.”

Ernie Els shot 66. A little more than a month after he six-putted the first hole at the Masters, Els opened The Players with six consecutive one-putts. It’s the lowest round he’s posted here in 20 years.

“This course has had its way with me,” Els said.  "Nice to get one up on the course, and the conditions were great.”

Rose was knocking down flagsticks. He hit all 18 greens in regulation shooting his 66 and made just one putt of more than 10 feet. He’s one of only four players to hit every green in regulation at The Players.

When the breeze stiffened in the afternoon, and the greens began drying out, the course toughened, but it never got that tough. Boo Weekley shot 66 in the afternoon. The morning wave’s scoring average was 70.06, with the afternoon’s rising to 71.97. Still, the overall first-round scoring average was 71.01, the lowest in 23 years. 

“I don’t like it,” David Duval said of the set-up and scoring conditions. “I think it should have been and could have been faster.”

Duval won here in ’99 with a 3-under 285 total, the highest winning score on the Stadium Course.

While the fairways were firm and fast, the greens weren’t. Without wind to repel scoring, players were able to attack flagsticks. Scoring Thursday was all about the greens, which are scheduled to begin undergoing a major renovation two days after the conclusion of this week’s event. The greens are being switched out from Miniverde Bermuda to Tifeagle Bermuda.

“The greens are a little more receptive right now, which they're starting to turn a little brown,” Weekley said. “I hope they put a little water on them and try to get them back to life, because if they don't do that, then there ain't no telling what it's going to be on the weekend.”

Players haven’t seen scoring quite this low in a long time, but they’ve seen how Dye’s design can turn dark and mean almost overnight. They’re expecting the meanness back by the weekend.

“By tomorrow, they will be firm and Saturday and Sunday they will be concrete,” Swafford said.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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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 hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked 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.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

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 the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

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 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. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

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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Phil 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.