Grace's caddie played it perfectly with history on the line

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2017, 4:08 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – A good caddie knows what to say when the tension builds and the stakes are high. A great caddie knows when it’s best to not say anything.

Count Zack Rasego among the latter, as proven by his mum performance on Saturday while his man, Branden Grace, plodded his way into the history books.

When Grace, who completed his round before the leaders even teed off for Round 3 at The Open, turned in 29, Rasego said nothing. When the South African added birdies at Nos. 14, 16 and 17, the veteran looper remained aloof.

Even when his man airmailed the green at the last and needed to get up-and-down for par to shoot the lowest round in men’s major championship history, Rasego was reticent.

It wasn’t until Grace calmly rolled in his 3-footer for par for an 8-under 62 that Rasego finally came clean.

“Zack came up and said, ‘You're in the history books.” And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Grace laughed.

They’ve been playing major championship golf for 157 years and a 62 had remained the Grand Slam unicorn, with players repeatedly flirting with history, as recently as last month at the U.S. Open when Justin Thomas did it on Day 3, and yet somehow Grace was oblivious to the elephant in the Royal Birkdale room?

“Let's get this out of the way: I didn't know what was going on on [No.] 18. I promise you,” he assured.

Credit Rasego for keeping his man in the dark. Who knows how Grace would have handled that delicate par save at the last had he known the stakes, but if relative ignorance was bliss there’s still no ignoring the depth of his accomplishment.

Let the social handwringing begin. There will be those who will needlessly handicap Grace’s round because of Saturday’s benign conditions. Grace himself figured par on Day 3 at the 146th edition was about 67.

Thomas’ 63, a 9 under card at Erin Hills that set a new major record for relation to par, produced a similar devil’s advocate response.

“It looks like a PGA Tour event course setup,” Johnny Miller, who was the first to shoot 63 in a major at the 1973 U.S. Open, said of Erin Hills. “I’m not sure where the days of the 24- to 29-yard-wide fairways that we played every time went. It’s interesting to see where the USGA has gone with the U.S. Open, being a little more friendly than in years’ past.”

On Saturday, Miller, who is calling the action for NBC Sports, was a tad more enthusiastic, but only a tad.


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Photos: Lowest rounds in major championship history


“Sweet, look at that number, that is sweet,” he said of Grace’s round before adding, “It was set up really, really easy today, folks.”

With respect to Miller or anyone else who wishes to rationalize the relative impressiveness of either Thomas’ or Grace’s rounds, records, by definition, need no generational footnotes.

Erin Hills’ fairways were undoubtedly wider than those at the ’73 U.S. Open, but then Miller likely didn’t have to negotiate greens that were rolling 13 on the Stimpmeter.

In Grace’s case, there’s also no denying that Saturday’s conditions along the Irish Sea were vastly better than those faced by the field on Friday afternoon, but in 145 Opens there’s been no shortage of fine days on the links that could have easily been the backdrop to a similarly historic round.

Nothing distracts from the gravity of a sporting accomplishment more than an asterisk, and nothing about Grace or Thomas’ rounds deserve such provisos.

Perhaps the game’s rule makers need to revisit the distance modern players hit the golf ball as more and more of golf’s treasured benchmarks are shattered, but that has nothing to do with Grace or Thomas.

It will be interesting the reaction Grace’s round will produce. Thomas’ 63 at Erin Hills, along with champion Brooks Koepka’s 16-under total, set off a chain reaction of complaints. No way Erin Hills should ever host another U.S. Open, was the consensus.

Whatever scoring accomplishments occur over the next round and a half at Royal Birkdale there will be no such outcry. Instead, fans, officials and players will concede that Mother Nature, so brutal on Friday, never arrived on Saturday – c’est la vie.

Erin Hills, however, was not afforded the same benefit of the doubt, just as there will those who will contend that Grace’s 62 is somehow less impressive because of the perfect conditions or the advantage of the modern power game.

Hogwash.

There’s no room in the history books for small print or footnotes, only facts, and the facts are rather clear on this – Branden Grace became the first player to ever shoot a 62 in a men’s major. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

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.

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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.


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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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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.