Mickelson unhappy, staying positive after first round

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2013, 1:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Phil Mickelson’s season debut was destined to be a strange one. Ambling onto the range Thursday morning at La Quinta Country Club, he greeted tournament officials, loosened up with a few swings and threw down a bucket of balls not next to Pat Perez, Tim Clark or Charles Howell III. No, he saddled up right next to Craig T. Nelson.

They small-talked for 20 minutes, lashing balls into the morning sun, and Mickelson eventually invited the 68-year-old actor not just to dinner but perhaps a golf game in L.A. next month. “I’ll get your number,” Mickelson told him, and Nelson practically floated to the first tee.

That unlikely union is part of the unique charm of this event, but the Humana Challenge is no place for an ailing golfer, what with the myriad distractions, excruciatingly long rounds, cold-topped tee shots, shanked irons and yippy putting. To survive these rounds, a pro may feel compelled to reach for something stronger than flu medication.

But Mickelson on Thursday seemed to thoroughly enjoy the intimate experience, if not his uneven play. He grinned his way through a five-hour, 21-minute round, regaling his pro-am partners with lively stories, dazzling with his short-game wizardry, confounding with mental blunders and, through it all, providing an endless stream of commentary that showed the left-hander is in good spirits (if not perfect health) entering his 22nd year as a pro.  

“I was really anxious to get back (on Tour),” Mickelson said, even if his body wasn’t ready to cooperate. Last week he came down with a nasty case of the flu, and he didn’t arrive in the desert until Wednesday. Now about “95 percent” healthy, the only lingering signs of illness Thursday were a leaky nose and nasally voice, and Mickelson downplayed the effects after his round, saying, “It wasn’t anything life-threatening.”

More so than his health, however, Mickelson’s main concern now is making sure he’s around Sunday. His opening-round, even-par 72 in ideal conditions at La Quinta left him nine shots back and frustrated that his offseason work didn’t translate in his first official round of 2013.

“I know it’s there,” Mickelson said, “even though the results today were not good.”

After a pedestrian opening nine, Mickelson’ back side featured a few shots that won’t show up on the box score. On 10, he lined up on the right-hand side of the tee box and smashed a drive that cut off the right-to-left dogleg. Alas, it also brought into play the out of bounds down the left. Mickelson watched helplessly as his ball caught a tree and caromed off the cart path.

“Are you kidding me,” Mickelson hissed, and asked his caddie, Jim Mackay, for a reload.

When he arrived at his first ball, Mickelson quickly surveyed the situation – O.B. by a foot, near an artificial rock patch and a resident’s patio furniture – and angrily snatched up the ball and flipped it to Bones. After his fourth shot sailed long, Mickelson needed to make a 6-footer just to save double bogey – the same score he made there last year, during an opening 74 en route to a T-49 finish.

“That hole,” he said, “is just my nemesis.”

On the 12th tee, Mickelson pounded a 5-Hour Energy and then made one of his worst swings of the day, his ball sailing weakly to the left, behind the gallery. Of course, being 15 yards left of the green and behind two overhanging trees also afforded Mickelson an opportunity to show off his otherworldly short game, and he didn’t disappoint. He opened the blade of his 60-degree wedge and swung hard, the ball sailing above the trees, nicking nary a leaf, and dropping delicately on the edge of the green. The ball nestled to within 3 feet of the cup. Lefty grinned.

“You hit it there as much as I do, eventually you’re going to learn how to hit those shots,” he woofed.

Even more creative, perhaps, was how he handled his second shot on the 13th, after his tee shot sailed right, into the trees. His only option was to start the ball down the 14th fairway with a 5-wood and play a slinging slice.

Erik Compton, walking up the 14th, called out to Mickelson: “You got a shot?” 

Lefty shrugged. Then he smirked.

Of course he did.

Mickelson found the left side of the green, about 40 feet away for eagle. (Summing up his day, he three-jacked from there and settled for a momentum-killing par.)

On 15, he yanked his tee shot right, into the gallery, and hit a spectator in the groin. But once again, Mickelson recovered with a spectacular flop shot off a tight lie that helped him salvage par.

“I was able to shake out an even-par round today,” he said. “As bad as that is, I’ve got a low round in me tomorrow, and I don’t feel like it’s far off.”

Of course, only low rounds will suffice on Friday and Saturday if he wants to extend his stay in the desert. Sixteen players shot 65 or better on Day 1, and Mickelson sits at T-122 heading into Friday’s round on the Nicklaus Course, the easiest course in the rotation. 

“That,” Mickelson said, “was certainly not what I was expecting.” 

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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.