2015-16 College Preview: LSU enjoys view from the top

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2015, 2:00 pm

The celebration was short-lived.

When LSU coach Chuck Winstead gathered his team at the school’s practice facility for their first meeting on Aug. 24, he briefly reflected on what happened three months ago and then focused on the task ahead. 

There was no gloating. No apathy, either. 

The meeting lasted all of 30 minutes, and then they went straight out to the course. It was time to get back to work.

“The happiest I’ve been since June 3,” Winstead said. 

That was the day LSU players and coaches celebrated a long-awaited national title with hugs, cheers and beads on the 18th green at Concession, after a commanding victory over Southern Cal in the NCAA match-play final.  

It was the Tigers’ first NCAA title in 55 years, but if you wondered whether that newfound success would change this group, or Winstead, think again.

“It’s like I explained to the guys when we first got back: It’s great that we had the success last spring, but if they stacked up 100 of those trophies it wouldn’t change me,” Winstead said. “I genuinely enjoy the work. I enjoy the everyday aspect of being around the guys and trying to help them improve.”

2015-16 College Preview: Top 10 men's teams | Men's players | Women's teams

LSU is once again one of the top teams to beat this season, ranked No. 3 on Golf Channel’s preseason list. 

The Tigers welcome one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and also return three All-Americans from last year’s NCAA title-winning squad, including their most consistent player, senior Zach Wright, who bombed his way to a perfect record (3-0) in the match-play portion of the championship.

Before NCAAs, Wright had enjoyed a solid but unspectacular junior season. He finished outside the top 20 only twice, but one poor round each tournament kept him out of contention for individual titles and, thus, out of the national spotlight.   

“There’s no shot clock on how guys develop in golf,” Winstead said. “Some guys are quicker than others, but I’m happy with where things are with Zach. Now our goal is to refine his game and get him ready for life after college (on the PGA Tour).” 

Sure, another year of seasoning for Wright and junior Eric Ricard will help, but the Tigers still absorbed a few key losses during the offseason – most notably a pair of graduating seniors, Stewart Jolly and Ben Taylor, who were instrumental in helping shape LSU into a perennial top-10 program. Also out for at least a portion of this fall season is junior Brandon Pierce, who broke a vertebra in his neck when he dove into a shallow pond the day after returning home from NCAAs. Pierce underwent surgery, but he was fortunate to avoid a career-ending injury. He has resumed hitting short-game shots and could play in practice or tournaments as early as this fall.

It is yet another unfortunate setback for the snakebitten star. Two years ago, Pierce suffered a stress fracture in his back and was sidelined eight months. When he returned to the lineup last spring, he was one of the team’s top performers, finishing in the top-30 in all eight starts, tying for 11th at NCAAs and posting a 2-0-1 record in match play.

“It’s frustrating,” Winstead said, “but he’s got a smile on his face every day and he’s working hard on his game. We’re very glass-half-full on this.” 

With Pierce out of action for at least a few months, there is no shortage of suitable replacements.

Not surprisingly, the player getting the most buzz is 19-year-old freshman Sam Burns, who entered college as the country’s No. 1-ranked junior player.

Burns was an All-Everything on the AJGA circuit, but he arrives on campus now simply trying to earn a starting spot. In fact, his toughest competition might come from his own classmates – fellow freshmen Luis Gagne and Nathan Jeansonne, both of whom were ranked inside the top 15 nationally as juniors.

“The negative of not having Brandon right away is also a positive in that someone is going to need to step up and play,” Winstead said. “That’s the culture of our program, that we develop all of our players.” 

And that program has never had a higher profile. 

Now entering his 11th season at the helm, Winstead didn’t realize the magnitude of what his team had accomplished last June until he returned home to Baton Rouge and was overwhelmed by the support. With the NCAAs now on television, he said fans in town “became a part of the team” and were more invested instead of just scanning an agate page in the newspaper or clicking through another emotionless post on a website.  

“The coolest part,” he said, “was seeing how many people it genuinely made happy.”

With success comes expectation, but Winstead isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself or his players to sustain this level of excellence and live up to the lofty ranking. 

“My internal desire to improve each day is enough for me,” he said. “Nothing else could trump that.”

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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.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

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.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''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

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.