McCoy eyes NCAA glory after returning to school

By Ryan LavnerApril 18, 2016, 6:51 pm

A strange thing happened after Lee McCoy’s star-making performance on the PGA Tour. He didn’t turn pro … and he didn’t neglect his Georgia teammates … and he didn’t become complacent, even with graduation and pro life only two months away. It was, in a word, refreshing.

In a college landscape rife with one-and-done talents who choose personal ambition over collective achievement, McCoy has rallied for one final championship push.

After tying for fourth at last month’s Valspar Championship and outshining Jordan Spieth in their Sunday pairing, McCoy returned to Athens early the next morning, after a 7 1/2-hour drive, to play in the Bulldogs’ home tournament. Since then, he has won twice, including the SEC Championship on Sunday, and finished in the top 10 in another event. 

Maybe that doesn’t surprise you – after all, if McCoy could beat all but three Tour players on a difficult course like Innisbrook, then surely he should play better than kids his own age. But it’s not that simple.

Following the Tampa event, McCoy said he listened to people around him telling him to turn pro, to take the money, to capitalize on his newfound celebrity and status. (It was the best finish by an amateur in a non-opposite-field event since 1998.) Sure, he briefly considered taking the jump – “It was a lot closer than most people think,” Georgia coach Chris Haack said – but ultimately McCoy decided against it, because he returned for his senior season to win a NCAA title, and he wasn’t about to bail on his teammates with only a month left in the season.

“I can play professional golf for the rest of my life,” he said recently, “so I figured I might as well take advantage of that little time left and try and win a national championship.”

Returning to school presented a unique set of challenges, however: McCoy faced even more pressure and attention every time he played. Any downturn in performance would make his Tour finish seem less impressive. And how about motivation? How does a 22-year-old shine on the biggest Tour in the world, against the best player, and then return to the same apartment, to the same classes for his housing major and to the same courses that, needless to say, aren’t up to Tour standards?

“I’m just playing the win-or-loss game at this point,” he said. “Eighth or ninth place, it doesn’t really do much for me.

“The only goal individually is to try and win, and that’s a lot different than playing on Tour, obviously. Finishing fourth in a Tour event is more exhilarating than any win I’ve had in college. It takes another level of golf to be in contention out there than it does out here.”

It also takes another level of discipline and maturity, which is what McCoy has kept reminding himself. During the recent 3M Augusta Invitational, he was in the mix for medalist honors and needed to go eagle-birdie on the short par 5 and reachable par-4 finishing holes. Instead, he went bogey-par, after his second shot on 17 left an impossible flop shot to a tucked pin. He wound up four shots back.

“I get more flustered out here in an intimate setting on this type of a layout than I do with 15,000 people, and that’s probably going to be a good thing,” he said. “It could have something to do with those expectations of trying to win and feeling like I should be winning most of the weeks, but I was much more composed in Tampa and in the other Tour events that I’ve played than I have in college golf.

“I think I’m a bit mentally stronger on Tour than I am out here, and I think that’ll help going forward.”

But McCoy has already been sharper this postseason. Closing in on the school record for career victories – a remarkable achievement, considering the level of talent that has rolled through Athens in recent years – McCoy shot 3-under 207 in 30-mph winds at Sea Island to win the SEC title by two shots. It was his seventh career victory, tying him with Chris Kirk and moving him within one of Russell Henley.

But clinging to the lead late Sunday, McCoy wasn’t fretting about the record or his place in Bulldogs lore. “One of the things that has impressed me the most,” Haack said, “was that he was very concerned about where the team stood, and it was more about the team than him. He would have played safe if we needed him to play safe.”

It wasn’t necessary. McCoy birdied the final hole and helped lead Georgia to its first conference title since 2010, and the eighth overall under Haack.

The focus now shifts to regionals and the NCAA Championship, where the Bulldogs lost in the semifinals a year ago. McCoy likely can’t play the win-or-loss game there, not with so much at stake. And that’s OK.

Said Haack: “He wants to go win a ring with his team.” 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.