Bogey leaves sour mark on Tiger's sweet 67

By Ryan LavnerMay 10, 2013, 12:51 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In the 12 years since he last won here, critical moments such as these had so often eluded Tiger Woods.

Late Thursday afternoon, he was 6 under as he stood on the tee of the 124-yard 17th hole. The warm sun was still beating down. The hole location was in one of the most accessible spots on the island green. The wind, as usual, was swirling.

Would Woods summon his usual magic? No, far from it. His tee shot with a wedge rode the wind and wound up long and right of the hole, some 55 feet away. Flummoxed, he threw a few blades of grass into the sticky air. The crowd groaned.

Upon reaching the green, Woods squatted on the opposite side of the hole, he and caddie Joe LaCava trying to find the proper line, somehow. Up and over the ridge his ball would need to go, near the fringe, and then back down the hill again, with the pond looming if his putt carried too much speed. Anything inside 5 feet would be better than most.


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Video: Highlights of Woods' opening 67


The spectators so desperately wanted the putt to drop, if only so they could roar like it was 2001 again. But rest assured, Woods was quite pleased with his long-range lag to 3 feet, a tap-in par to press forward. In the 12 years since he last won The Players, he hadn’t enjoyed a day quite like this.  

The course that has largely befuddled the world’s top player was laid bare Thursday, defenseless, and it took a bare-knuckled beating from the strongest field in golf. At day’s end, 67 players were under par, including 33 with a round in the 60s.

One of those players was Woods, after a 5-under 67. It was a surprise not that he was in form after a three-week layoff, but that he played so well despite his suspect history here.

Among the eye-opening stats:

• Never in 15 previous tries had he broken 70 in an opening round;

• His Players scoring average of 71.4, his worst in any event in which he’s played 50 or more rounds;

• And the 67 was his best score here since the final round in 2007

But on a windless, warm day when the ball flew farther than expected – even his 5-wood traveled about 300 yards, he estimated – Woods took advantage of each of the four par 5s and ran off four birdies in a row around the turn.

In fact, he was 30 feet away from notching his first bogey-free round on the Stadium Course, only to be undone by an 8-iron on the 18th hole that flew 200 yards – pin-high – and bounded over the back, leading to a stubbed chip and bogey.

“This is a tricky golf course,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to make a bogey around here. I think that’s kind of what Pete (Dye) had intended, and I’m sure that most of the guys throughout their career really haven’t had too many other days that are spotless on their cards.”

Spotless or not, Woods finds himself four shots back of surprise leader Roberto Castro, a 27-year-old who matched the course record in only his third career tour around Sawgrass. One shot ahead of Woods is Rory McIlroy, the world No. 2 who has found his game after months of hibernation. Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson each shot 67.

Woods was a runner-up here in 2000 and a champion in ’01, but not much has gone right since – one top-10 finish in 10 attempts. Recently, he has a T-40 and two WDs.

“It’s one of those courses where they’ve got some tough lines,” he said, “and if you’re not playing well, you’re going to get exposed.”

Woods tried a scaled-back approach Thursday, not least because the ball was flying in the humid, 85-degree air. On only four holes did he hit driver, and he peppered most fairways with a 3- or 5-wood.

Indeed, Woods found himself in trouble only once, on the 459-yard 14th. His tee shot sailed well right, into the gallery, and his ball came to rest on the left edge of the cart path. Taking little time to assess his option – surely to the delight of armchair rules officials everywhere – Woods dropped in the pine needles, slashed out short of the green, took another drop from a sprinkler head, and then nearly chipped in. Ho-hum par.

A hole later, he faced a 4 1/2-foot par putt with a massive spike mark in his line. After holing the putt, he chose not to pump his fist but rather to stand in place and tap, tap, tap down the bump.

“It kicked it off-line but it worked out in the end,” he said. “I got lucky.”

Woods, of course, wasn’t so fortunate on the 18th. In a collection area behind the green, he opted for the 56-degree wedge instead of the 60-degree, the 4-iron or even the putter. The grain snagged the bottom of his wedge, however, and the ball landed a few feet short of the putting surface.

Was it a deflating bogey, a sour note to end an otherwise brilliant day?

Sure.

But now 12 years removed from his last win here, Woods can delight in simply seeing his name near the top of The Players leaderboard.

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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.

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."


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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."