Team format will bring excitement one way or another

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2017, 8:45 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Fun and excitement. Good times and a lively atmosphere.

For once, they’re talking about the Zurich Classic, not just the tournament’s host city.

After struggling to attract star power during a quiet time on the schedule, the Zurich on Thursday will become the first official team event on the PGA Tour since 1981, when Vance Heafner and Mike Holland won at Disney World.

Based on the field assembled here – seven of the top 11, and 13 of the top 25 – and the increased media turnout, everyone is interested to see how the Big Easy stages an easygoing, freewheeling team format.

“I think that’s what we miss sometimes – the fun aspect of golf, for viewers at home, for viewers that are here, and for me personally,” Bubba Watson said. “There’s going to be some competition and a fun side of it, but at the same time, we’re going to be grinding it out and trying to win. We want to hold a trophy at the end of the day.”

There are two rounds of foursomes play (Thursday and Saturday) and two rounds of fourballs (Friday and Sunday), with a 36-hole cut to the low 35 teams and ties. Both members of the winning team will receive $1.02 million and 400 FedEx Cup points, as well as invitations to The Players, PGA Championship and Kapalua.

Players didn’t exactly pore over strokes-gained data to form their teams. Allegiances here range from college (Alabama’s Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley) to country (Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara) to state (Utah’s Tony Finau and Daniel Summerhays) to sponsor (Zurich ambassadors Jason Day and Rickie Fowler).

Hey, even brothers, in the case of Brooks and Chase Koepka.

Big bro Brooks joked that they could either wrestle by the second hole or have an incredible experience at TPC Louisiana.

“We’ve definitely hurt each other’s feelings before,” he said. “Nothing we haven’t done.”

Most of the partnerships were solidified in the fall, when the format change was first announced. Or at least that’s how it seemed to Geoff Ogilvy. With only six weeks to spare, he essentially signed up for the Tour’s version of – he called the tournament office to tell them he was interested in playing, and then he asked if anyone else had done the same.

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It wasn’t until Ogilvy showed up at Hilton Head a few weeks ago that he finally found a partner: Ian Poulter, a player he’d known for nearly two decades, the man who was riding shotgun with Ogilvy on Sunday at Winged Foot when he won the U.S. Open. “It was serendipitous, really,” Ogilvy said. “We were both looking at the right time.”

Polar opposites in both personality and temperament, Ogilvy and Poulter aren’t even the oddest couple here.

That honor could go to quirky Bryson DeChambeau and quick-tempered Rory Sabbatini.

Or maybe 32-year-old Spencer Levin and 54-year-old Rocco Mediate.

Or perhaps Argentine Miguel Angel Carballo and Californian Brian Campbell.

“If you don’t get along,” Henrik Stenson said, “it’s going to be a long four days out there.”

The only two major champions paired together, Stenson and his partner, Justin Rose, have the biggest advantage this week – they’re close friends (used to live across the street from each other in Lake Nona), they possess similar games (strong ball-strikers) and they have experience partnering together in the Ryder Cup (4-2 record), the biggest pressure-cooker in golf.

“There’s no sorrys,” Stenson said. “It’s not going to be a good environment if you’re standing over the ball feeling like, Oh, I hope I don’t miss this or he gets mad at me. It’s not going to work.”

Players expect the winning score to be somewhere between 16 and 20 under par, depending on the weather. Most will play their own game, or slightly more aggressively, during fourballs. But there is the potential for sparks to fly during the two rounds of alternate shot, especially among the teams that are playing together for the first time. Throw in a forecast that calls for 30-mph winds, and …

“You’re going to see some big numbers and it’s going to be fun on TV and you may see some teammates go at it,” Billy Horschel said. “It’s going to be entertaining.”

Players have seemed especially eager to break away from the traditional 72-hole stroke-play format. The European Tour has already unveiled innovative new ideas, from night golf to six-hole tournaments, and now the biggest Tour in the world is exploring whether the same outside-the-box thinking works in the States, too. Rickie Fowler described this week as a “trial run.”  

It’s revealing that even without world-ranking points, the Zurich has attracted its best field in decades. (Last year, just 10 of the top 50 in the world teed it up.) That the tournament doesn’t offer world-ranking points this week – and thus counts against a player’s divisor – might actually be a bonus.

“Guys that are playing free, that are expressing themselves, you’ll see more personality than you would maybe see, and I think we’re all looking forward to that,” Jordan Spieth said. “It’s an event that guys have not only marked down on their calendar, but have been as excited as any other event the rest of the year.”

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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

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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.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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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

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.