Stallings coughs up lead down the stretch at Humana

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2013, 12:50 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Perhaps it was only fitting that after Scott Stallings took a drop on the 72nd hole Sunday, and needing to get up-and-down to join a four-man playoff, his ball rolled into a pile of geese feces. A nasty day, indeed.

His tortuous decline at the Humana Challenge can be described thusly: Five ahead at the start of the final round, up by six after four holes, tied at the turn, and then, incredibly, one shot out of a playoff after a watery bogey on the final hole.

“Coming down the stretch on the 18th hole,” Stallings said afterward, “you can’t make mistakes like that. And it stinks” – no pun intended – “but it’s something that I’ll definitely learn from.” 

Five-shot leads on Tour used to lead to back-nine coronations.

Now, they increasingly foretell last-hole drama.

Last year alone, seven players – from a newcomer like Kyle Stanley (Phoenix) to a seasoned veteran like Phil Mickelson (Pebble) – rallied from six or more strokes in the final round to win. And the Humana isn’t immune from the improbable comeback, either. Here in 1999, of course, David Duval authored the signature moment in this tournament’s history, shooting a final-round 59 to win after he trailed by seven.

In warm weather with no wind and no clouds – in other words, golf in a dome – Stallings’ final-round 70 matched the highest score of anyone in the top 36. In the top 10 alone, there were three 62s, one 63, two 64s and two 65s. The winner, Brian Gay, shot a bogey-free 63.

“That is the nature of the tournament,” Stallings said. “Anyone who thinks they’re going to run away with it is fooling themselves. I never once said I was running away with it. I was very fortunate to have a big lead.

“I played good for three days, and it is kind of weird in this kind of marathon, low-round tournament, you’re going to kind of catch a skid here and there. And the person who survives the best, wins. Unfortunately, I just hit a bad shot.”

That bad shot: a 6-iron from 220 yards from a slightly hanging lie that drifted left, the one place it couldn’t. His ball crossed the hazard but trickled into the water.

Other miscues, however, proved just as costly.

On No. 2, Stallings roped a beautiful long iron to 9 feet to set up a possible eagle. Left the putt a foot short.

He didn’t capitalize on the reachable par-5 sixth. He missed a 1 ½-foot putt on No. 7, leading to his first bogey of the tournament. He missed a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 8.

Said his caddie Frank Williams, “He was never really comfortable after he missed that short one on 6.”

Still, Stallings broke out of a tie with Gay by birdieing Nos. 10 and 11 to start his back nine. But his 4-iron tee shot on the par-4 16th was “flushed” and sailed into the bunker, near the lip, and he had no choice but to chop out, leading to a bogey.

On 17, Stallings stared down his tee shot on the dangerous par 3, thinking it would be close, but his ball landed just short of the ridge and trickled back some 40 feet.

And then came 18. After a massive drive left him only 220 yards – perfect 6-iron distance – he pulled his approach just slightly and found the water. He couldn’t get up-and-down after missing an 8-foot par putt, leaving Gay, David Lingmerth (62) and Charles Howell III (64) to battle for the title.

“The golf course is very susceptible to low scores,” said Stallings, who opened here with 66-65-63. “I happened to make low scores the first couple of days, and I hadn’t really had kind of an off-day yet. I just hit some weird shots at not a good time.”

A victory at the Humana would have been Stallings’ third Tour title in the past 19 months; only world No. 1 Rory McIlroy (four) has more during that span. Still, Stallings remains the quintessential streaky player. Excluding the two victories, he has only four top 10s in his other 56 career starts.

Yet, he gushed about his union late last year with Williams, who looped for Stewart Cink for the past 14 years, including during the 2009 British Open. Stallings on Sunday described the relationship as having given him a “big shot in the arm,” and already he has had two opportunities to win in seven starts together (Disney, Humana).

“He knows he’s playing good,” Williams said afterward. “He’s a heck of a player. He’s got all the shots. And I think it was kind of tough for him coming out with a five-shot lead and being an aggressive player. He hadn’t really been in that situation.”

Said Stallings, “It’s disappointing, but at the end of the day, I get to play this game for a living. You’re going to have your good days and your bad days, but if you live and die with every shot out here, your career is not going to last very long.”

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 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.


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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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."