New-wave Watson embraces challenges

By Rex HoggardAugust 27, 2015, 9:23 pm

EDISON, N.J. – Bubba 2.0 may be calmer with the occasional clarity of thought, but the human highlight reel has not dulled his signature honesty.

Unvarnished and unapologetic, Watson was asked on Thursday, after an opening 65 gave him a share of the lead, what about Plainfield Country Club, site of this week’s Barclays, suits his eye?

“Nothing. Well, the scorecard suited my eye. We'll take the scorecard all day,” he said.

Part of that love/hate relationship is based on Watson’s last visit to this slice of the Garden State in 2011 when he opened with matching rounds of 70 at The Barclays and missed the cut.

As hard as this may be to comprehend, it seems the last time Bubba played the Donald Ross gem he took a relatively measured approach off the tee; so this time he went with a much more aggressive playbook.

“We took a different strategy,” Watson said. “Ping makes a good driver, so we were going to try to hit driver as much as we can. The rough is so thick that I would rather miss my driver in the rough than an iron off the tee or something like that.”

It turns out Bubba Ball plays at Plainfield.

Although Watson hit just half of his fairways on Day 1 at The Barclays, he averaged 303 yards off the tee and found 14 of 18 greens in regulation on his way to a 5-under card that could have been even better had it not been for a three-putt from 73 feet at his final hole (he started on No. 10).


The Barclays: Articles, photos and videos


Watson’s evolving game plan aside, as if the realization that hitting driver is in Bubba’s best interest is some sort of epic epiphany, his play on Thursday was not exactly a surprise.

In his last six PGA Tour starts, Watson has won in a playoff (Travelers Championship), finished runner-up at the RBC Canadian Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and began the postseason third on the FedEx Cup point list.

Still, it’s not often that Bubba is something of an afterthought in his own threesome, but on Thursday he set out with world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who is playing his first event since winning the PGA Championship.

Nor would many have taken Watson in a three-ball bet considering how well Spieth and Day have been playing, but Bubba beat the Masters and U.S. Open champion by nine strokes and the Australian by a field goal.

“It would be a surprise to me. Not so much Bubba's [play] but Jordan [who struggled to a 74 on Day 1],” Day said when asked if Thursday’s opening act played out the way he might have thought it would.

It was a measure of how far Watson has come that even after a three-putt on the last hole and bogeys at two of his final four holes he remained strangely upbeat, particularly on a golf course that likely isn’t on Bubba’s “bucket list.”

For a player who depends on visual feedback as much as Watson, Plainfield is far from plain and simple. As Bubba ran through his card on Thursday he had less of an affinity for the layout than a professional acceptance that not every flavor is going to be Augusta National, where he’s won twice.

“I’m not making excuses about how I play golf. But you look at the golf course, it's a blind shot off No. 1. If you leave it in the right spot, it's a blind shot on the second shot. No. 2 is a blind shot where it's landing,” he said. “I can keep going; there's a lot of blind shots out there.”

Although it’s taken the better part of 36 years, the player one national magazine recently featured under the headline “Bubba: Why we love him and why we don’t” has learned to embrace the rub of the green.

In the age of the “we” generation it is conversely refreshing that Bubba is still an old-school “me” kind of guy.

When Spieth talks about a golf shot or a decision it’s always a group, “We've gone about our business the way we wanted to,” the 22-year-old said earlier this week.

Conversely, Watson often appears alone on an island of his own making. One outlook isn’t better than the other, just different.

“I had some issues growing up where I was very angry at the world and at the golf, and so I've tried to get better at that,” Watson said. “Over the past few years, I've grown up, I guess you'd say, and my thinking, my processes, either I'm getting better as a person or I'm just tired of hitting bad shots on the golf course. So I'm thinking better.”

Embracing Plainfield and all its quirkiness may not exactly have the look and feel of a hard self-examination, but for Bubba it’s an indication that he’s at least interested in improvement and that’s a start.

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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.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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

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.