Mickelson's gaffe generates needed excitement

By Rex HoggardOctober 9, 2015, 10:24 am

INCHEON, South Korea – It wasn’t Concessiongate, but given the status of a biennial event that has largely lacked any measure of buzz for some time, the rules minutiae that likely cost Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson a half point Friday was a reason to sit up and take notice.

While Lefty’s gaffe lacked the antagonistic subtext that made last month’s Solheim Cup so compelling, it was a breath of fresh air straight off the East China Sea for an event sorely in need of excitement.

When the dust finally settled at the Presidents Cup, the rules snafu led to Mickelson and Johnson losing two holes in the span of a single frame (No. 7), and International captain Nick Price’s suddenly energized team took care of the rest.

After earning the lone International point on Thursday, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace made an early statement Friday, stunning the American duo of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, 4 and 3, to start a rally that would have the Internationals trailing by just a point, 5 ½ to 4 ½, at day's end.

The highlight for captain Nick Price, however, was Sangmoon Bae’s 11-foot birdie make on the 18th hole to edge Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, 1up. At no point during that match did Bae and his partner Danny Lee lead the Americans - until, of course, it was over.

“I must admit, that putt that Sangmoon made on No. 18 today, was probably the highlight of the last two days for us,” said Price, whose team won their first session since 2011. “They struggled a little bit today, and Danny obviously has been trying so hard. I think he's strung out. But it's a good day for us.”

It was the collective play of the International team, which won three and a half of the five points avaiable on Day 2, that infused a measure of competitiveness into these matches, but it was the bizarre moments that Mickelson spent on the seventh hole that made the event compelling.



With his fourballs match against Jason Day and Adam Scott all square on the seventh tee, Mickelson switched to a “firmer [golf] ball” for his tee shot only to discover he had violated the one-ball rule, which resulted in what officials called an “adjustment to the state of the match.”

The adjustment, essentially a one-hole penalty, was compounded when rules officials told Mickelson he was disqualified from the hole. Zach Johnson, who was playing the International tandem a man down, made par to the Internationals' birdie.

From all square to 2 down in one hole, it was, indeed, a profound adjustment to the state of the matches as a whole, transforming them from foregone conclusion to compelling competition.

While Mickelson took full responsibility for his mistake, he did seem to cast a strange stone afterward with a comment that is sure to become bulletin board fodder for a suddenly inspired International team.

“I feel like we spotted the Internationals’ best team two holes and they still couldn't beat us. Just saying,” Mickelson said.

Although Alison Lee’s mistake, combined with what appeared to be European gamesmanship, actually inspired the American Solheim Cup team to victory last month, Mickelson’s mistake appeared to give the Internationals new life heading into Saturday’s double session.

After both its captain and players started the week with weak efforts, the International team rallied on Friday thanks, at least in part, to a pep talk by Price after Thursday’s meltdown.

“Price had a good involvement with the team last night, getting the pairings spot-on, and I think that was really important for today,” said Grace, who along with Oosthuizen is 2-0 this week.

Price – who surprised some even inside his own team room with a few of his pairings on Thursday, most notably his decision to sit Sangmoon Bae for the opening foursome match – said his biggest concern was how nervous his team, particularly the rookies, appeared in the opening session.

“I know I keep repeating myself, but there's not much more that you can say to those guys to instill confidence in them,” Price said. “You know, I don't criticize them. I didn't say anything. It was just an observation yesterday. They just responded so well today.”

U.S. captain Jay Haas likely stated a similar case to his team after dropping three of Friday’s five fourball matches, but then the American front man has history on his side.

The U.S. team held a similar one-point advantage after two days in 2013 at Muirfield Village before nearly sweeping the morning fourball session on Saturday. It began Sunday with a six-point advantage.

“Obviously we're not as pleased with our day today as we were yesterday,” Haas said. “I don't think the guys are discouraged. It's a putt here, a putt there. Things could have ended differently. It's obviously a very important day tomorrow. I think the guys realize that and they will come out ready to go.”

While Saturday will prove pivotal for this year's matches, Friday was likely the most crucial day for the overall health of the Presidents Cup.

As Price has preached all week, these matches, perhaps more so than any of the previous 10, need to be competitive and compelling. That the event became slightly more contentious on Friday was only a bonus.

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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.

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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

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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."