Europes Weakest Link
The U.S. Open record books make a dismal reading for the British. Ted Ray, stunned by Ouimet in 1913, did take the title seven years later at the Inverness Club in Toledo but since then only Tony Jacklin has been successful. He led from the start to win by seven at Hazeltine in 1970 when he also happened to be the reigning British champion. It did not herald, however, a dramatic revival in European fortunes. Jacklins success remains the only European win in 82 years! Is it any wonder that you might be considered somewhat eccentric if you suggested there could be a British winner at Bethpage Park this year of the title all American professionals dream of winning?
Having said that, it is a fact that British players have come close in the past few seasons. Only a brilliant up-and-down from a bunker at the final hole on the final day prevented Nick Faldo from beating Curtis Strange at The Country Club, Brookline in 1988. Strange easily won the playoff. The following year Ian Woosnam had a go at bringing the trophy back across the Atlantic but failed by a shot at Rochester. Strange was the winner again.
More recently Colin Montgomerie came in third at Pebble Beach in 1992, pipped only by the fast finishing Tom Kite and often under-rated Jeff Sluman, then lost a playoff to Ernie Els at Oakmont six year later. In 1997 Monty battled all the way again at Congressional in Washington with Tom Lehman and Els who played a career best second shot to the 71st green which proved a winner again.
Closest any Continental European has come to winning recently was Miguel Angel Jimenez who was joint runner up to Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000. Going good but he and big Ernie Els were 15 back at the close.
Still if the record of British and European players makes dismal reading we can at least claim that the title is not beyond the reach of members of the European Tour. Els is not a member of the European Tour and has won twice. The defending champion this year is Retief Goosen who not only plays the European Tour full-time but was last years top Euro earner so it is not all that bad.
Yet why is it that Europeans seem to do so well at Augusta and so poorly at the U.S. Open? Perhaps the key to that lies in the way the United States Golf Association sets up their Championship tests. Those thick collars of rough around the greens are not what European players are used to. They perform better at Augusta because there are not collars. You have to be more imaginative around the greens, be adept at the traditional little Scottish chip-and-run. Significantly, Europeans have won the Masters 11 times since 1980.
Then there is the climate. It can be hot and steamy at a U.S. Open and the Europeans do not like playing golf in conditions in which their shirts stick to their backs and you perspire buckets simply walking to the tee. In Europe the weather is altogether more inclement. Didnt the Scots invent golf in order to enjoy a dram of the product the country is most famous for without feeling guilty? After suffering the wind and rain at St. Andrews, or Prestwick or Musselburgh, they had a ready made excuse for medical reasons to down a whisky or two or three
Looking for excuses, however, for European failure at the U.S. Open is pointless. The fact is that the top European Tour players, whether they are from Europe, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, or Asia, are golfing globetrotters. No golfing conditions, no course set-up should ever faze them. The worldwide European Tour starts each year in Asia moves on to South Africa and Australia, heads back to Asia and the Middle East before it finally comes home. The Tour does not even hit Britain until Week 18!
My point is that Europeans, most of who do manage to play a number of events in America, early in the season anyway, really are capable of playing any course. Maybe it is only matter of time before a European manages to do what Goosen did last year at Southern Hills.
A hundred years ago at Garden City, N.Y., when the entry incidentally was a modest and manageable 90, it was Scot Laurie Auchterlonie from St Andrews who walked off with the first prize, preventing in the process fellow Scot Willie Anderson from winning five years in a row.
Those were the days before Ouimet when the men from across the pond dominated the event. It is different now but you can be sure the Europeans in the field this year will come as determined as ever to take the title. They will take no notice of the historical facts and figures. After all, to any European winning the American national championship comes second only to being a member of a winning Ryder Cup side on U.S. soil. There is one problem, one reason, however, why the Europeans might have to wait another year for a much-needed U.S. Open win. He is a bit older that Francis Ouimet. His name is Tiger Woods.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
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.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.