Masters Sunday filled with intrigue and diversity

By Rex HoggardApril 13, 2014, 12:32 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – For two days Augusta National culled the herd, sending some of the game’s biggest names spiraling out of town and leaving just enough daylight between Bubba Watson and the pack to give the 78th playing the faint hue of a boat race.

But as is the Masters modus operandi, congestion returned under a warm spring sun thanks to what the venerable course does best – two-way traffic.

Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and John Senden gave; Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler took. And now 11 players are within four strokes of the lead with Sunday’s final loop looming. As is the case most years on the former Fruitland Nursery, equal parts mistakes and miracles defined Day 3 with more on the menu on Sunday.

Watson, a former champion two comfortable years removed from his maiden Masters victory, started to fray on the front nine on Saturday but closed with a 74 to share the lead with 20-year-old first-timer Jordan Spieth at 5 under par.

Masters champion vs. Augusta National rookie.

On paper this is a 4-and-3 rout.

“There’s a reason why no one has won the Masters in their first start since Fuzzy (Zoeller) in 1979,” figured Butch Harmon earlier this week. “It’s hard for a first-time to know the nuances.”

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But in practice, Watson will likely have his hands and his head full on Sunday when the two set out together in the final two-ball, which will have an interesting start if Spieth follows through on his plan to greet the 2012 champion with a thoughtful, “Mr. Watson.”

“Just because it will mess with him,” joked Spieth, who has now carded three steady rounds (71-70-70) thanks to clutch putting and a dialed-down game plan.

“That’s fine when I’m hitting it past him,” Watson playfully fired back when told of Spieth’s intended greeting.

But then keeping Spieth at bay will only be one facet of Watson’s Sunday agenda.

Trending Matt Kuchar is a stroke back after a third-round 68; Jonas Blixt kept pace with the front-runners with an eventful 71; Rickie Fowler climbed up the leaderboard with a 67, and the erstwhile Miguel Angel Jimenez did what 50-year-olds always seem to do at Augusta National and was two back.

“My thing is enjoy yourself, enjoy what you are doing and smile. Not enough people smile on the golf course,” Jimenez waxed following a turn-back-the-clock 66.

Not bad for a player poised to make his Champions Tour debut next week.

Without Tiger Woods, who missed the Masters following back surgery last week, and Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut, in the weekend field for the first time since 1994, Augusta National did what it always does and delivered birdies and bogeys with equal abandon and an eclectic and evolving leaderboard.

Watson blinked first with bogeys at Nos. 6 and 7 to drop into a tie with Blixt, Thomas Bjorn and, moments later, Kuchar as the ebb and flow of the year’s first major championship dictated the pace.

In the span of 15 minutes, Blixt (No. 13), Jim Furyk (No. 15) and Bjorn (No. 15) all found various water hazards and potential contenders began dropping off faster than the azalea flower petals in the spring heat.

Conversely, the youngest at heart endured the late-afternoon challenge, with Spieth posting an inward nine of 35 to grab a share of the lead and Fowler making the biggest move through the final turn with a 33 to finish at 3 under.

“It’s about time I step up and start playing well on the weekend, especially at the majors,” Fowler said.

If Spieth seemed a tad naïve he’s come by it honestly considering this week’s Masters is just his fifth major, but he has a pretty good idea what to expect after Survival Saturday.

“It was almost like putting on rolling gravel. It was crazy out there,” Spieth said. “I had to make a lot of 3-, 4-footers and I felt comfortable with those. I felt like my lag putting was good and it needs to be out here.”

The great misnomer in Masters lore is that this tournament is little more than a putting contest. To be precise, it is a lag-putting contest, particularly on greens that have become markedly crustier since Monday’s deluge sent players and patrons dashing for cover.

It may be where Watson has his most distinct advantage, as he demonstrated on the 14th after his approach caught a ridge in the green and he two-putted from the better part of a country mile. “Bubba ball” may get the headlines, but it was his putting that delivered his first green jacket and will determine whether he collects his second.

“I knew the key was just making some putts down the stretch, and luckily I did that on the last two holes to get in the final group,” said Watson, who ended his streak of six consecutive sub-par rounds at Augusta National.

Ditto for Fowler, who is pacing the field with a 1.50 putting average and has just two three-putts in 54 holes. For all the attention paid to Fowler’s move to Harmon’s stable and the ensuing swing change, it has been his putting that has been wanting through the early part of 2014.

“He started putting better at Bay Hill and this place fits his creativity so well,” said Fowler’s caddie Joe Skovron. “At No. 9 he turned his back to the hole and almost made the putt.”

At first blush, the lines are clear. Sunday appears to be the tipping point between young and old, experienced and fresh-faced with Watson, Kuchar and Jimenez in one corner and Spieth, Fowler and Blixt in the burnt yellow trunks.

But that’s not Augusta National’s style. Patience and panache, not pedigree, count on Sunday when the leaderboard begins to resemble I-20 at rush hour.

“I’ll lose some more hair as we go on this week,” Spieth said of the building pressure.

Spoken like a wise man.

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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 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.


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.