Motivated by loss, Z. Johnson (66) leads Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2013, 4:22 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – Get on with it.

It is a distinctly English point of view but fits the situation here in Scotland, and Zach Johnson has embraced the philosophy, to say nothing of the breezy and bouncy way of playing the game on ancient links.

Less than four days ago, Johnson endured a painful first in his career, a playoff loss at an event that was his for the taking.

Johnson finished 72 holes at TPC Deere Run tied with eventual champion Jordan Spieth and David Hearn at 19 under but couldn’t convert a birdie putt in the playoff. He spent the better part of the next seven hours stewing about what could have been.

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“It disturbed him,” said Damon Green, Johnson’s longtime caddie. “The whole flight over, he was bothered by it because he’d never lost a playoff.”

Green told his man not to dwell on the overtime loss and consider the Open Championship his reason to move on. By the time the charter flight to Scotland had landed Johnson had turned the page.

He eschewed jetlag and headed straight to Muirfield for a nine-hole practice round on Monday and a new beginning. By the time he’d rounded the East Lothian links in 66 strokes on Thursday for the early clubhouse lead the John Deere seemed like a lifetime ago, or so Johnson would have one believe.

“Well, I had forgotten about it until you just mentioned it,” said Johnson, his tongue firmly planted in cheek.

The truth is, losses like the Deere don’t go away, and no one knows that better than Johnson. The former mini-tour player has carved out a stellar career on the back of disappointment.

From humble beginnings have come great things. Nine PGA Tour wins, including the 2007 Masters, and a regular spot on America’s cup teams stand as a testament to a player who is something of a throwback to an earlier time.

He doesn’t hit the ball as far as most in the big leagues and his Midwestern sensibilities have kept him clear of the spotlight, but when things are darkest Johnson is at his best – be it at a major championship or a charter flight with too much free time.

“You can be depressed for a day,” said Dr. Morris Pickens, Johnson’s sports psychologist who is with the front-runner this week in Scotland. “But there are worse things in life than losing a playoff. Just do the same thing you did last week.”

Message received.

Johnson was one of three players to go out in 31 on Day 1 and, unlike the other quick starters, he maintained that advantage on an increasingly difficult closing loop to finish at 5 under – the ghosts of TPC Deere Run blown clear into the Firth of Forth by a warm wind.

“This game demands resilience,” Johnson said when asked about the Deere heartbreak. “I felt great about last week. What I embraced is that I played great. The bottom line is I know I can play on these golf courses and I love them.”

Johnson proved that last year at Lytham, when he rode a wild week (65-74-66-75) to his first top-10 finish (T-9) at golf’s oldest championship.

That Muirfield is playing perfectly this week for the fairways-and-greens specialist also helped Johnson move on. A dry and hot spring has resulted in a brown and bouncy test that favors precision over power.

That a “quality shot” can end up 30 feet from a pin also favors Johnson, one of the Tour’s best putters.

“Lag putting,” Johnson said when asked his strengths on Thursday.

As Muirfield became more crusty with each gust on Day 1, Johnson reverted to a unique way of reading greens. “You have to pay attention to the color,” he figured.

If a putt was along one of the greener patches, for example, you could be more aggressive, but if the grass had turned a brownish hue it was best to putt defensively.

It almost reminded one of Augusta National in 2007, when the home of the Masters was similarly speedy and Johnson played every par 5 in three shots on his way to a green jacket.

It also helps that Johnson has a particularly attentive roommate this week. When Stewart Cink won the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry he was more than a year removed from his last victory and dealing with his own demons.

“He is one of my very best friends,” Johnson said of Cink, who are sharing a house just down the coast in North Berwick. “It just so happens he’s won the claret jug.”

Cink knows a thing or two about resilience, and that might be the best club in Johnson’s bag this week. On this the English have it right, just get on with it.

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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.

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.


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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."

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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."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."