Confidence man: Harrington willed '08 win at Birkdale

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2017, 11:00 am

When The Open gets underway on Thursday at Royal Birkdale there will be no shortage of lessons to be gleaned from the last time the game’s oldest major was played on the English links.

After winning the claret jug in 2007, Padraig Harrington arrived early the next year to fulfill his duties as reigning Champion Golfer of the Year, but didn’t hit a full shot until he set out on Thursday because of an injury. He endured a brutal start in even worse conditions and, like most of the field, was a competitive afterthought until late on Sunday.

It may have been a magical 5-wood that sealed the victory for Harrington in ’08, but it was his mind that made that shot possible.

“I felt I was favored,” Harrington said. “The media wanted a fairytale story with Greg [Norman]; I was aware of that and I’d recently played with Greg, knew what a great player he was, but I felt like this was my tournament.”

Although Harrington’s confidence was understandable – he was the defending champion, after all – his week at the ’08 championship didn’t exactly get off to a fairytale start.

He was nursing a right-wrist injury when he arrived at Birkdale, hadn’t seriously contended since his major breakthrough a year earlier at Carnoustie and could only chip and putt to prepare right up until his Day 1 tee time. But in his signature idiosyncratic way, the Irishman never doubted his ability or his chances.

“I’m a great believer a lot of times with injuries you’re better off playing with them. A lot of times the adrenaline of a tournament can get you through,” he said. “I just didn’t know anything that would happen. It took a lot of stress off me and a lot of pressure off me.”

He maintained that outlook even when he set out on Thursday in what some still consider the worst conditions in recent Open memory.

Harrington, playing in the early wave, started his title defense with a bogey at his first hole and closed his round with back-to-back bogeys for a 4-over 74, which normally would be a reason to start planning for a short week.

“I don’t watch the golf, but I was walking by the TV room and Adam Scott was knocking it onto the 15th in two [shots] and it had taken three woods when I played it in the morning so I nearly put my foot through the TV,” he said.

Just six players managed rounds at or under par on Day 1 in ’08 – with Robert Allenby, Graeme McDowell and Rocco Mediate leading the way with 69s – and the scoring average on Thursday was 75.87. Birkdale would rank as the toughest course on the PGA Tour by more than a half stroke that season.

“I shanked it out of bounds on the first,” recalled Paul Casey, who tied for seventh. “It was awful. I thought how can we be playing in this, when is the horn going to blow? It never happened.”

Harrington endured, however, and when Sunday arrived he was tied for second place, two strokes behind Norman, who at 53 was the oldest player to hold at least a share of the 54-hole lead at The Open.

The nostalgia of Norman’s run didn’t last long, with the Australian opening with three consecutive bogeys on his way to a 77 and a tie for third.

Ian Poulter, who teed off nearly an hour before Harrington on Sunday, quickly set the new mark with a closing 69, one of just six under-par cards on Day 4 and a round that included the most Poulter-esque of finishes.

One stroke clear of the field playing the 72nd hole, the Englishman followed a poor tee shot with a mediocre recovery and chipped to 8 feet for par.

“We all think, and so does Ian, [the par putt] is to win The Open,” Casey said. “So he looks at his putt and he goes to [caddie Terry Mundy], ‘Terry, come here.’ Terry is like, he hasn’t called me in all week to read a putt and now he’s calling me in so when I read this putt and he misses it he’s going to blame me.'

“So Terry goes over and bends down to read the putt, and Poulter’s like, no, no I’ve got the putt. You remember when you’re a kid at your home club and say to yourself this putt to win the Open? Well, this is my putt, now watch this.”

Poulter made the putt to finish at 7 over for the week, but it wasn’t to win The Open.

Following three consecutive bogeys before the turn, Harrington rebounded with birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 to move to 5 over before hitting what may be the most memorable shot of his career on the par-5 17th hole to seal his second major championship.

From 272 yards, Harrington rifled a 5-wood to 3 feet for what was essentially a walk-off eagle.

“It was a hell of a long way back in the day. A cold, windy day with the wind whipping off the left, but it was my favorite club and I was feeling good. You can never underestimate someone feeling good about their game, feeling confident with the shot they are hitting,” Harrington said. “It was one of the few times I’ve heard my caddie tell me it was a good shot when it was in the air.”

At the time, Harrington called his victory at the ’08 Open the most satisfying of his career, which is surprising considering how emotional he was following his victory a year earlier in Scotland. Asked recently where his Birkdale victory ranks the 45-year-old had a more reasoned take.

“Everything I did the week of Birkdale went exactly how you would dream of winning a major when you’re 15 years of age,” he said. “I played great, swung the club well, hit some spectacular shots, I was favorite. When you were a kid this is the scenario you would have had.”

Despite poor health and a poor draw, for Harrington it was the perfect ending.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.