Sunday at WGC-Mexico is as good as it gets

By Rex HoggardMarch 5, 2017, 12:24 am

MEXICO CITY – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson – if that sounds like a dream foursome or your fantasy team lineup you’re probably not alone.

Fact is, that four-ball is pure fantasy, right? Modern golf’s version of the ’27 Yankees, water-cooler topics for ridiculously hypothetical conversations – If Rory had Phil’s short game, how many majors would he win? If Phil had Rory’s consistency off the tee, would they have renamed the U.S. Open trophy after him?

You get the idea.

The PGA Tour brought a World Golf Championship to Mexico and the four horsemen of the A flight rode in.

Note to our friends in Mexico: this is as good as golf gets right now.

Sure there are pieces that could be interchangeable. You could add a Jordan Spieth or Thomas Pieters, the European Ryder Cup star from last fall who is being billed in many circles as a singular talent. Or Jon Rahm, who won the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year, could add a measure of marquee for those who relish the inside-baseball pick.

Or, you could be greedy and want it all, the young and the not-so-young, the established and the up-and-coming. Such is the embarrassment of riches after three days at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Johnson trails Thomas by a stroke after the duo posted matching 66s, while McIlroy is tied for third place with Mickelson. For good measure Spieth, Rahm and Pieters are all within five strokes of the lead with one trip around Club de Golf Chapultepec remaining.

Call it a bucket-list leaderboard.

It’s no surprise when the best emerge from the pack at a WGC, they are, by definition, a gathering of the world’s best players. But you rarely get a pack of the best bunched so tightly at one time.


WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos


This week, however, the planets aligned in dramatic fashion, with Johnson, who claimed the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking with his victory two weeks ago at the Genesis Open, doing what he does best, overpowering golf courses with a detached brutality.

“I feel like I played really, really good the last three days, I've really hit the ball well. I feel like I'm putting it well, too. It's just not really going in the hole,” said Johnson, who could lose the No. 1 ranking this week if he finishes outside the top 4 and McIlroy wins.

McIlroy will have some ground to make up to fulfill that potentiality, but in his first start since going on the disabled list in January with an injured rib, he finds himself in the hunt after what he called a “boring” 70.

To put the gravity of this week’s collection of all-stars in context, McIlroy admitted that it wasn’t the injury induced layoff or the stomach virus that slowed him on Thursday that led to his struggles on Day 3, it was nerves.

“I was a little bit nervous going out today,” said the four-time major champion. “I've been in positions like this before dozens of times, but I don't know, coming off an injury and sort of the first time back in contention for a while, I was a little bit edgy the first few holes.”

Thomas may be the relative unknown of the front-runners, at least to the casual fan, but his three victories so far this season prove that his abilities far outreach his current celebrity, which could increase dramatically on Sunday if he were to emerge from this group headliners.

“It's cool playing in the final group with DJ and Rory. That's something I haven't experienced before, playing with those guys,” said Thomas, who scrambled for much of his round but solidified his spot atop the pack with a hole in one at the par-3 13th for a 12-under total. “I've played with a lot of great players, but it will be a new experience.”

And then there’s Phil, always entertaining whether he’s leading or getting lapped, and he’s giving the Mexican faithful the full experience.

An eventful day featured almost as many rulings (three) as fairways hit (four) for Mickelson, who saw more of Mexico on Saturday than a college student on spring break.

At the 10th hole Lefty pushed his drive left, took a drop and made par. At No. 11 he pulled his drive right, took a drop and made par. At his next stop he was right again off the tee, took a drop and made what most would consider a good bogey.

Ta-da.

And yet the 46-year-old still managed to shoot an under-par round (68) and remain in the hunt just two shots back, not that Mickelson was taking much solace in either accomplishment.

“Honestly, it was a disappointing round for me because I haven't played the way I would like to the last three years and I put a lot of work into it the last year and a half,” said Mickelson, who was rejoined by his longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay on Saturday after the looper was sidelined with a stomach virus on Day 2. “I had a complete meltdown and lost all focus of my game for a nine-hole stretch there.”

Still, he’s among the deepest list of contenders this season at the year’s deepest field. The year’s first WGC has produced a world-class cast for the final act – enjoy.

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Rahm (62) takes early lead at CareerBuilder

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.

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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

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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."