Scar tissue not an issue for DJ (66) at PGA

By Ryan LavnerAugust 13, 2015, 9:11 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Prowling around Whistling Straits, Dustin Johnson doesn’t look and sound like a player burdened by his inglorious history here.

Before the opening round of the PGA Championship, Johnson’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, suggested that his prized pupil scale it back on his opening hole, the short 10th, and get into position with a 2-iron.  

“No, I’m gonna send it and drive the green,” Johnson woofed. “I’m gonna send it all day.”

He ended up opting for a 3-wood that set up an opening birdie, but his message was clear: Another layer of major-championship scar tissue wasn’t going to stop Johnson from what he does best.

Attack, attack, attack.

Time and time again Thursday he wailed away on driver, pounding tee shots into the throats of the fairways and setting up short birdie looks on his way to yet another lead in a major. His opening 6-under 66 was his best round ever at Pete Dye’s masterpiece, a round that surely stirred the golf gods.

There’s no hiding from the redemption storyline, not this week, not after what happened two months ago at Chambers Bay and what happened here at Whistling Straits in 2010. 

Johnson isn’t one for introspection, especially not in a news-conference setting, and when he was asked about his 72nd-hole bunker gaffe (over and over again), he replied with a grin: “I don’t really think about it unless someone asks me the question.”

Though Johnson might not say it publicly, there’s a sense that this place owes him. 

PGA Championship: Round 1 scores

At least he doesn’t have to worry about making the same mistake. A spectator grandstand now covers that sandy, trampled-down area, and on Thursday, when he played the hole in competition for the first time since, he bludgeoned a 313-yarder that sailed over the bunker complex down the left – a ridiculous line the rest of the field can’t even consider.  

Did he pull it? Sure. Did he get away with it? You bet. Oh, what he would have given for a prodigious pop like that 1,824 days ago.

“Right now,” Jason Day said, “he’s putting himself in positions where 95 or 99 percent of the players that are playing this week aren’t there.”

Another example: On the 489-yard fourth hole, and with the wind whipping into his face, Johnson ripped a 337-yard drive down the left side that left him only a sand wedge into the green. He made birdie.

“That’s just freakish to be able to do that,” Day said.

On the fifth, a dogleg-right par 5 that looks as though it was imported from South Florida, Johnson aimed at a row of lights in the distance and sent his drive at least 50 yards right of his fellow playing competitors, Day and Rickie Fowler, both of whom are long hitters. It didn’t work out – Johnson’s tee ball was knocked down by the wind and wound up in the fescue – but he didn’t catch all of it, either. He still made a routine par.

Indeed, Johnson’s 66 in increasingly difficult conditions was about the worst score he could have shot on Day 1, considering the number of putts inside 15 feet that didn’t drop. Overall, he averaged 312 yards off the tee, hit 15 greens and was only in trouble once, on the par-3 third, when he failed to get up-and-down from left of the green.

It was his third consecutive first-round lead at a major, the first time a player has completed that hat trick since 1958.

“Today was pretty easy, I have to say,” he said afterward.

But this has also been the easy part, at least lately.

In Johnson's last six major starts, he’s a combined 37 under par with a 67.9 scoring average in Rounds 1 and 2. 

Over the last two rounds? A scoring average that is nearly four shots higher (71.8), with a cumulative score of 6 over par.

The most curious case came last month at St. Andrews, where he opened up a one-shot lead at the halfway point, but went 75-75 over the last two days and faded to 49th.

“I know I was leading after two rounds,” he said, “but I didn’t feel like I was playing that good of golf. I wasn’t too comfortable with my swing. I wasn’t hitting the shots that I wanted to hit. I didn’t feel like I was too much in control.”

The same feeling existed last week at Firestone, a venue that should fit Johnson’s eye, for it rewards good driving. But he struggled off the tee and shot 11 over on the weekend, plummeting out of contention.

With Harmon’s help, Johnson tweaked his takeaway – he was picking up the club to the outside – and before long was back to the bombs-away approach that makes him the game’s most tantalizing tease.

Will another torrid start lead to his first major title, to a redemption story for the ages?

Johnson wasn’t ready to even consider the possibility. No outright first-round leader at the PGA has gone on to win since 1983, and besides, he knows better than most the potential trouble that lurks around every dune and bunker here.

“It’s only the first round,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of golf to play.”

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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 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."

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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."