'Overrated' Fowler has last laugh in furious finish

By Rex HoggardMay 11, 2015, 2:00 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The most overrated player, at least according to a recent player poll, outdueled arguably the game’s most little-known player and the undisputed most complex player to win the PGA Tour’s biggest title.

Not bad for a tournament virtually devoid of the type of leaderboard that normally makes headlines heading into Sunday’s final turn.

A day that began with more questions then answers with 30 players within five strokes of the lead ended with an exclamation point that could be heard all the way to South Florida.

Rickie Fowler, who along with Ian Poulter was voted the game’s most overrated player in a recent player poll on Golf.com, rallied from three strokes down to begin Sunday at The Players with a bold stretch to finish his round and what could only be described as a brash performance in a playoff that stretched to dusk.

“Going into the playoff, it was almost like nothing to lose,” said Fowler, who defeated Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner on the fourth extra hole with his sixth birdie of the week on the iconic 17th hole. “I was out of the golf tournament through 12 holes today, and we managed to fight our way back in.”

Fowler began his charge with a birdie at the 13th hole in regulation, although he said it was a clutch par at No. 12 that set things in motion. He would play the Stadium Course’s final six holes in 6 under par, including an eagle at No. 16, to grab the clubhouse lead.

After that he watched and waited. He waited for more than an hour as potential challengers ebbed and flowed before two (Garcia and Kisner) matched his total and two (Ben Martin and Bill Haas) came up just short.

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At one point it appeared officials would have to go with a split-tee start for the playoff. There hadn’t been this much uncertainty in Ponte Vedra Beach since the Tour initiated testing for performance-enhancing drugs in 2008.

In the first aggregate, three-hole playoff in Players history, Fowler and Kisner birdied the second overtime hole (No. 17) and finished tied at 1 under par, a stroke clear of Garcia. At the first sudden-death playoff hole (No. 17) Fowler hit his tee shot to 4 feet and converted the birdie putt for his second Tour victory in his 142nd career start.

That’s three tee shots at No. 17 all within 7 feet for birdie ... in the same day.

Not bad for a guy who received 24 percent of the vote as the game’s most overrated player, a dig that fueled Fowler, who was already trending in an impressive direction.

Although Fowler had been reluctant to dwell publicly on the poll this week, when asked if he thought it gave his man extra motivation, caddie Joe Skovron conceded the obvious, “I’m sure it did. It’s always going to.”

The victory moved Fowler into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking and sets the table for a potential “Big Three” in golf with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy fresh off similarly high-profile victories.

Kisner’s climb will not be nearly as meteoric, but his runner-up showing will elevate the little-known player’s status beyond golf circles. In the last month he’s played six playoff holes in 2 under par and is 0-for-2 in that stretch.

At last month’s RBC Heritage, Kisner birdied the first extra hole against Jim Furyk but lost that overtime frame with a par at the second.

“[Fowler] was 8 under in the last 10 holes?” Kisner asked. “That’s pretty good. Feel like what I did at Hilton Head and still didn’t win. Golf is a hard and cruel game.”

There was no need to remind Garcia of that truth.

For the week, El Nino battled through two putting grips and two different putters, one of which ended up in the garbage can, but came up short in his quest for his second Players title.

For a time, it appeared Garcia had finally been saved by his putting, a line your scribe never thought we would pen, with a 43-footer for birdie at No. 17 to move to 12 under. To put that in context, his longest putt for his previous 70 holes had been 27 feet.

But in the playoff, the Spaniard missed from 16 feet, 38 feet and 18 feet and had no interest in silver linings following his near miss.

“It’s just, that’s the way it is,” said Garcia, who closed with a 68. “Some days you feel better with the game, some days you don’t.”

It’s a unique level of perspective that Fowler could relate to. Characterized in some circles for a perceived lack of toughness and an inability to “close,” he turned to swing coach Butch Harmon in December 2013 and was the only player to finish in the top five in each of the four majors in 2014.

Still, the questions persisted and seemed to reach a crescendo as word spread about the player poll. Although Fowler has never shied away from the media spotlight, the 26-year-old seemed uncomfortable with the narrative. There is, after all, no easy way to deny being overrated without sounding overrated.

That is, until Sunday.

“I laughed at the poll,” Fowler said Sunday at TPC Sawgrass. “If there was any question, I think this right here [Players trophy] answers anything you need to know.”

He also solidified all one needs to know about The Players. Historically the Tour’s grand soiree has been won by the player who fist-pumps last on the 17th hole. The only difference this year is it took three trips to the island green.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

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It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.