North Heads North on Leaderboard
Tom Watson carded a 66 and is tied for third place with the man who beat him in a playoff at this year's U.S. Senior Open, Don Pooley, as well as Tom Purtzer, Dana Quigley and overnight leader Jim Thorpe. The group stands at 7-under-par 137.
During Saturday's second round, Lietzke was the story as he cruised up the leaderboard, but by the time play reached the back nine, it was all North. North birdied No. 10 to reach 2-under for the round, but the best was yet to come for the two-time U.S. Open champion.
At the 15th, North drained an 18-footer for birdie from off the green. He knocked a pitching-wedge to four feet to set up birdie at the 16th and made it three in a row with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 17th.
North capped off his round of 66 with a beautiful 9-iron approach at the 18th that landed four feet from the hole. He ran home the birdie putt to take the lead into the final round for the first time since joining the Senior Tour in 2000.
'Starting the day, you're thinking you're going to have to shoot low scores and I got off to a quick start with a birdie at No. 1,' said North, who made it into the tournament as an alternate after Tom Wargo went into the hospital for heart problems last week. 'Then I played some really nice shots at the end and all of the sudden it was a wonderful round of golf.'
North is winless in 66 starts on the Senior Tour and has not visited the winner's circle since the 1985 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.
'I had numerous physical problems I went through the last 10 or 12 years where I couldn't golf,' said North, who works as an analyst for ESPN. 'It's fun to be in the last group. You get up on Sunday; you're nervous and it means something.'
Lietzke tallied four birdies over the first 13 holes, but his late play propelled him into second place. He holed a 10-foot birdie putt at the 15th and made it back-to-back birdies with a 15-footer on No. 16.
At the par-5 17th, Lietzke's 60-footer for eagle found the bottom of the cup, putting him one birdie away from breaking the course record.
He knocked a 6-iron to eight feet at 18 and converted the putt to break Thorpe's previous mark of 64.
'I got caught up in a whirlwind at the end,' said Lietzke, a two-time winner on tour in 2002. 'That finish really moved me up the leaderboard. I didn't come close to any bogeys today.'
Lietzke might have an advantage of the field come Sunday. In 2001, he fired a 66 in the final round to take the title in the tournament's first appearance on the Senior Tour schedule.
'That would be something the other players are aware of and I'm aware of,' said Lietzke. 'I know how this golf course can play on Sunday. That's a plus for me.'
Wayne Levi is alone in eighth place at 6-under par, followed by Dick Mast, Jim Ahern, Gil Morgan, Allen Doyle and Sammy Rachels, who share ninth at minus-5.
Full-field scores from SAS Championship
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
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."
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."