Norton to Battle Smith In Mid-Amateur Final
Forty-four-year-old Bryan Norton of Mission Hills, Kan., and Nathan Smith, 25, of Brookville, Pa., will be paired in the final 36-hole match on the South Course.
A former professional on the PGA European Tour and PGA Tour, Norton dispatched defending champion George Zahringer, 50, of New York, N.Y., 3 and 1. Earlier in the day, Norton came back to defeat 35-year-old Pat Carter of Lesage, Va., in 19 holes.
Smith carved his way to the final by eliminating Alan Hill, 41, of Spring Branch, Texas, 5 and 4, in the semifinals and 1995 champion Jerry Courville, 44, of Milford, Conn., 3 and 2.
The winner of the Mid-Amateur historically receives an invitation to play in the upcoming Masters in April.
That would be the dream of dreams, and some kind of Cinderella story, said Smith, vying to supplant Greg Puga as the youngest ever Mid-Amateur champion. I cant even comprehend that right now.
Norton has played in four U.S. Opens and one British Open, tying for 28 th in 1990 at St. Andrews. Earlier this year he was the medalist at the British Mid-Amateur before losing in the second round. The championship this week marks just the fourth individual tournament hes played all year.
You know, it would be great, but at the same time, I dont know how well I could be playing in April, joked Norton. I cant even break 80 in May.
Except for a couple of missed 3-foot putts, Norton didnt look rusty Wednesday. In the match against Zahringer, Norton never trailed. He grabbed the lead on the fifth hole, pushing the advantage to 2 up by the turn.
In all, he had two birdies, the last of which came on the par-3 17 th hole where he stuck his drive to within 7 feet of the hole. But there was a reason for the shortage. Wind gusts of up to 30 mph played tricks with the ball all day.
Case in point: In Zahringers quarterfinal match against 31-year-old Rick Reinsberg of Lafayette, Calif., Reinsberg called a penalty on himself on the 18 th green after the wind moved his ball while he addressed it.
We went straight from summer to fall, said Smith. There were times you wanted to put it on the tee, quickly address it and hope it didnt move.
Zahringer, who made it to the finals the last two years, cut the deficit to 2 down when he knocked his 140-yard approach shot to 2 feet on No. 15 to win the hole but he couldnt sustain the charge back.
On No. 17, with the match dormie, Zahringer hit the fat part of the green for a 30-foot putt. He opted to chip, but the ball only went 12 feet. Soon after he conceded.
Looking back, [Norton] played steady all afternoon, said Zahringer. He had a very good ball-striking round.
It was pretty tough. I was kind of fighting my swing all week.
In the other semifinal match, Smith won five of the first six holes before Hill could capture his first at No. 7. The highlight for Smith came on the 378-yard par-4 sixth. Far left off the tee, Smiths ball bounded under branches behind trees with no sight line to the hole. He hit a blind approach shot to the green and two-putted to set up an impressive save par.
A graduate student at Clarion University in search of his MBA, Smith studied most of this week for an accounting test ' that was to take place Wednesday evening. He had a premonition that he would have to reschedule the exam.
The other night, you know what, I said to myself, Somethings going on here and closed the books, said Smith, whose father, Larry, is on his bag.
Neither Norton nor Smith knew anything about one another. Norton regained his amateur status in 1998, several years removed from a professional career on the PGA European Tour (1987-91) and one on the PGA Tour (1991). For six years after leaving the tours, he hardly competed, less alone played, he said.
My take is that the guys who play the most have the best advantage, said Norton, when asked about his professional past. Thats where you can get the advantage. I dont care if youre a pro or an amateur.
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."