Wie having fun again, leads HSBC

By Randall MellMarch 4, 2017, 3:38 pm

Cue Johnny Cash’s defiant ballad.

When I hear that trumpet sound, I’m going to rise right out of the ground.

There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.

All the folks who have been fitting Michelle Wie’s career for a coffin, take notice.

There’s a pulse.

Wie is putting all those broken pieces of her game back together yet again at the HSBC Women’s Champions.

Wie isn’t just atop any old leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round in Singapore.

She’s leading all the best and biggest names in women’s golf. The top 15 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are all there.

With a 5-under-par 67 Saturday, Wie surged ahead in a bid to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

At 14 under overall, Wie is two shots ahead of Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko (67), No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (69) and emerging Korean sensation Sung Hyun Park (68).

Hall of Famer Inbee Park (71) and Ha Na Jang (68), the defending champ in search of her fifth victory in 12 months, are only three back.

“There definitely is some butterflies out there, but it's exciting getting that feeling again and being in this position,” Wie said. “It's a great feeling. I just want to go out there and have fun tomorrow and really enjoy it.”

David Leadbetter, Wie’s swing coach, reminded her that she has done this before, that she put herself back together to win twice in ’14, including the most important championship in women’s golf.

“She is in rarified air, that she hasn’t been in for a while, but I said to her, 'You have been here before. You can draw on some great experiences, especially Pinehurst, which was very pressurized coming down the stretch,’” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com. “It’s not like this is brand new territory.”

No matter how Sunday unfolds, Leadbetter said he is encouraged that Wie is moving in the right direction.

“The signs are there, regardless what happens,” Leadbetter said.

After a bout of injuries following her U.S. Women’s Open triumph, after tinkering with a host of swing changes that damaged her left hip and left knee and then her confidence, Wie has “settled on” a swing this year that’s working. Leadbetter said she isn’t constantly searching and experimenting anymore. She has committed to hitting a stock fade that has been repeatable, and it’s giving her a lot of confidence.

“It’s easing her mind,” Leadbetter said.

It’s also easing the mind of Leadbetter, who jokes that Wie seemed to have a new swing every time he has gone to see her the last few years. At last year’s start, he challenged her to narrow her stance, to try to go back to the more flowing swing of her youth, with more hip turn to protect her lower body.

“She has this fairly wide stance now, and the swing is fairly compact, but not as tight and as short as it was when she won the U.S. Women’s Open,” Leadbetter said. “At Pinehurst, she put a little more stress on her lower body. This swing is a little freer. The big thing is she has a pattern to her shots.”

Wie, 27, leads the field in Singapore in hitting greens in regulation (48 of 54). Overall, she’s also hitting almost 80 percent of her fairways this year.

“We’ve sort of decided on, 'Let’s hit this fade, hit it down the left side,’” Leadbetter said. “It’s not going to go left on her, unless she hits a bad pull, but, essentially, her misses are all one way now. Occasionally, she hits it right, but she is to where she knows how the ball is going to react.”

Leadbetter likes that Wie is going a little more by feel on the range these days.

“She looks at video a little bit less now, instead of every two swings, and she uses TrackMan now only occasionally,” Leadbetter said.

Wie’s mantra in Singapore this week is about trying to “just have fun.” Leadbetter is enjoying seeing Wie smile this week, and he’s enjoying seeing her competitive again, because she hasn’t been competitive the last two years.

Wie is playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption because she couldn’t get into the field any other way. She didn’t have a top-10 finish in all of 2015. She had just one last year. She entered this week’s event having missed the cut or withdrawn in 14 of her last 27 events. She slipped to 105th on the LPGA money list last year, costing her full LPGA status. She’s playing out of category 3 on the LPGA priority list this year, which is reserved for members who are major champions. 

“You can’t say it’s all injuries,” Leadbetter said. “But I do think they led to a loss of confidence. When she’s riding on a boat load of confidence, she’s an exciting player who can do a lot of things other players can’t do. I still maintain she can hit shots other girls can’t even think about hitting.”

Wie sought out Leadbetter at the Honda Classic last week, when she said she “begged” him to come over to the Bear’s Club in nearby Jupiter to help her work on a new putting stroke, a more upright posture after she abandoned her “table-top” stance. Wie went to the claw at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open two weeks ago but is now using a conventional grip.

“Michelle’s putting hasn’t given her a lot of confidence in the rest of her game the last two years, but she’s got some consistency now in her long game and there’s no telling what she can do when she’s putting well,” Leadbetter said.

Win or lose, Wie has a plan for Sunday.

“Doesn't matter how long it's been since I've been in contention or anything,” Wie said. “I'm really proud of myself for putting myself in this position. I'm going to enjoy it tomorrow and play as hard as I can and try it do my best.”

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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.


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."