Day, Piercy paired again in final round of a big event

By Will GrayJuly 2, 2016, 11:38 pm

AKRON, Ohio – The final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will serve as a bit of a reunion for Jason Day and Scott Piercy.

It was nearly 10 months ago that Day and Piercy were paired for the final round of the BMW Championship, an event that Day won and where Piercy finished third, earning a spot in the season-ending Tour Championship.

This time around, both players will head to the first tee with a little more confidence than they had in Chicago, as each looks to add a notable title to his resume.

For Day, this is a chance to continue what is shaping up to be a Player of the Year season. The world No. 1 already has three PGA Tour wins, including a WGC victory in Texas. While his ball-striking wasn’t sharp during the third round at Firestone Country Club, he plans to rely on his record of recent success, one that includes converting each of his last five opportunities with at least a share of the 54-hole lead into a win.

“If I can hit it decent tomorrow, I’ll give myself more opportunities on the greens, and I feel pretty confident with my putting that I can hole anything on the greens,” Day said after a third-round 69. “Just got to keep focused and try to get it done somehow.”

For Piercy, the transformation from September may have gone a bit less noticed. It’s a return to form that included a runner-up finish last month at the U.S. Open, his best career finish in a major.

But according to Piercy, the roots of his comeback trace all the way back to last year’s Barbasol Championship. While the best players in the world were competing in the Open Championship, Piercy went to Opelika, Ala., and had what he called the best ball-striking week of his life.

It led to a win, the third of Piercy’s career and one that signaled that he was officially on the comeback trail after an elbow injury cost him most of the 2013-14 season.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

p>“That was really the time where – even though I played good when I came back, I was kind of playing with only a few gears instead of five or six gears,” Piercy said. “Since then, Memorial of last year, I think I’ve only missed two cuts, so I’ve been pretty consistent.”

Piercy might be selling his recent results short by simply calling them consistent. He has finished T-29 or better in five straight significant events since March, a run that includes two majors, two WGCs and The Players Championship.

Now he sits 18 holes away from what would be the most significant win of his career.

“I won an opposite-field event (in 2011) and then I won the Canadian Open (in 2012). I kind of felt like the next step was to win a WGC or a major, then I got hurt after that so I kind of regressed,” Piercy said. “Hopefully the next step is kind of getting back. I feel like a better player now than when I got hurt.”

Piercy is markedly better than where he was even in September, but he faces a significant hurdle in that Day isn’t the same player, either.

The Aussie used that win at Conway Farms to reach world No. 1 for the first time, but he hasn’t exactly slowed down since then. Three more trophies have followed, and they have only served to fuel Day’s insatiable quest to win basically anything in sight.

His budding relationship with Tiger Woods has been well-documented, as has the fact that he has started to take a few pages from Woods’ well-established game plan: grow a two-shot lead into three; turn four wins into six; create even more distance atop the world rankings once you reach the top perch.

Day has embraced the grind-it-out mentality required this week at Firestone, and it has largely contributed to the fact that he shares the lead despite spraying the ball for much of the third round.

This event has served as a fine example of the potent, two-part advantage he has sported over his peers for much of the last year. Often times, his physical ability is enough to separate from the pack. But when the swing isn’t cooperating, he also has the mental acuity and resolve to not only salvage rounds, but win tournaments.

“If I come out tomorrow and hit it everywhere, then I’m just going to embrace it and try and grind it out,” Day said. “The good thing is that I’m tied for the lead going into tomorrow’s round, and that’s exactly where I wanted to be at the start of the week.”

A sizeable incentive looms for both men, reunited nearly a year after they last crossed paths. For Piercy, it’s an opportunity to cap off his journey back to the game’s upper echelon.

Day, meanwhile, will look to add another title to his growing resume by keeping it simple.

“The biggest thing for me,” he said. “is just to find my golf ball and hit it again, and try and hit it less than everyone else tomorrow.”

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 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.


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."