Kuchar's flubbed finish opens door to Humana lead

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 25, 2015, 1:27 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – The answer to the question seems slap-in-the-face obvious: Of course players want to hold the lead heading into the final round of a tournament. Sure, there’s the added pressure and the sleepless night and the big target on the first tee, but at least there’s the built-in cushion.

Except at the Humana Challenge, that’s not always a good thing.

Last year, Patrick Reed led by a touchdown heading into the final round, then held on for dear life as four players directly behind him shot 65 or better. He won by two after a Sunday 71.

The year prior, Scott Stallings staked himself to a five-shot lead, only to come back to the field when his game briefly went AWOL. He didn’t even make the three-way playoff after a final-round 70.

So, at the event that surrenders the most birdies each year, we ask: Is it better to lead or pursue?

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“I guess you could look at it both ways,” co-leader Justin Thomas said, “but regardless, you’re going to have to make a lot of birdies. That’s just how it is here.”

Good luck picking the winner off this board.

When all of the contenders marched into the media center Saturday at PGA West, they figured they’d be a few shots back and in pursuit heading into the final round. Not anymore.

With Matt Kuchar’s late collapse during the third round, there are four players tied for the lead, four others one shot back and 15 guys within three.

This event doesn’t always favor the frontrunner. This time, there isn’t one.

Birdie-fests like the Humana wouldn’t work every week on the PGA Tour, but those who like pyrotechnics will really enjoy the swan song here at PGA West’s Palmer Private. Ending its relationship with the event after this year, the Private always produces great drama on the closing stretch with a variety of risk-reward holes:

• The 15th is dainty par 3 with a kidney-shaped green.

• The 16th is a short par 4 that rewards strong wedge play.

• The 17th is a gut-check par 3 that requires only a wedge, but is one of the most intimidating shots players will face all year.

• And the 18th, well, the home hole is a very reachable par 5 that either crowns potential champions (David Duval, 1999) or crushes them (Stallings, 2013).

Of the four co-leaders, only Bill Haas has experience holding a 54-hole lead. The 2010 champion has converted only two of those five opportunities into a victory, and he was so concerned about how he’d fare this week after four months off that he told his wife that he was going to be in trouble.

Not exactly. At 17-under 199, he is tied with two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, journeyman Michael Putnam and Thomas, the stud rookie.

Haas fractured his left wrist when he fell down a flight of stairs last April and went winless for the first time in five years. Per doctor’s orders, he sat out the past four months, skipping range work and playing only corporate outings. Rust or not, he’s in position for his sixth career title.

“I was unsure how I’d be able to score,” he said. “So obviously very pleased to be anywhere near the lead.”

A victory by Compton would not just be a remarkable golf story, but one of the all-time great sports stories.

Making his 113th PGA Tour start, Compton will soon learn how his body handles the rigors and stresses of a lead on the final day. The 35-year-old tied for second at last year’s U.S. Open, but he was already out of it, five back after 54 holes.

“Confidence,” Compton said, when asked what’s changed since Pinehurst. “Probably more at ease with myself and not really feeling like I have to prove anything. Confidence is huge in this game.”

Belief isn’t lacking for Thomas, the former Alabama star who has drawn favorable comparisons to fellow 21-year-old Jordan Spieth. At last week’s Sony Open, Thomas shared the halfway lead but backed up with a pair of weekend 70s. He was more patient Saturday, carding a 4-under 68 in windier conditions.

“Some days you’re not going to have it,” he said of his experience in Honolulu, “and it’s just a matter of what you make of it."

Kuchar has his own self-reflection to do after frittering away three strokes on the last four holes, the last coming on the par-5 finishing hole, when his 3-hybrid didn’t cut and found the water over the green. To make matters worse, he missed a 5-footer for par.

“Regardless of what happened (on 18), I was still going to have to make a lot of birdies tomorrow,” he said.

Don’t worry, Kooch. At the Humana, it’s usually no lead, no problem.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

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.

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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.


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.