DJ looking to join Masters favorites with big SHO week

By Will GrayMarch 31, 2016, 11:15 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – With a week to go, you’re probably feeling good about your picks for the Masters.

The heavy hitters are peaking at the right time. Jordan Spieth has a trophy this year, as do Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Australia collectively owns pretty much every other piece of hardware.

Even Phil Mickelson, winless since 2013, has begun to bounce back, bringing dreams of a fourth green jacket much closer to reality.

But the top flight appears to have clearly distanced itself: a group of six, maybe seven players who are heads and shoulders above the rest of the hopefuls. Right?

Well, the thing is, you might need to make room for Dustin Johnson.

Johnson doesn’t have a recent win, one that would catapult him into the water-cooler discussion of, “You have to consider that guy at Augusta National.” In fact, Johnson has gone more than a year since his last victory – a rarity in his career, given that he has won at least once in each of the past eight seasons.

But that drought may end this week at the Shell Houston Open, where Johnson bombed his way to an opening 65. It left him one back of leader Charley Hoffman, and it also sent a clear message to the masses: Hey, don’t forget about me.

“You always want to get off to a good start. Today, I got off to a great start,” Johnson said. “I still feel like I’m playing really solid. I’m rolling the putter good. I’m excited for the rest of the week.”

Shell Houston Open: Articles, photos and videos

Of course, Johnson didn’t exactly arrive at the Golf Club of Houston in the midst of a drought. He cracked the top 15 in each of his last two stroke-play starts, and made the quarterfinals last week at the WGC-Dell Match Play before bowing out to eventual runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.

Still, his name usually isn’t mentioned as one of the favorites for the season’s first major. Perhaps that’s because of his high-profile collapses at places like Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay. Perhaps it’s because he didn’t notch a top-10 finish at Augusta National until last year.

While his three-putt to lose the U.S. Open was an enduring image from last year’s quartet of majors, here’s the thing: Johnson played really well at the four biggest events. He finished T-7 or better in three of them, including the Masters (T-6), and his mediocre finish at St. Andrews was a byproduct of a mind-boggling weekend collapse after he appeared to have the tournament well in hand at the halfway point.

Johnson may not have a major title yet, but he certainly possesses major-caliber game.

Thursday’s opener proved again that he can overpower a golf course, and is especially dangerous when the putter heats up. He needed only 21 putts, closing with a 10-footer for eagle on No. 8 and a 24-footer off the fringe for birdie on No. 9.

“I felt like I played really solid today, and holed some nice putts,” he said. “Anytime you can finish off the day like that, it’s always a good day.”

As it turns out, Johnson’s appearance this week was hardly a given. While many players stick to a strict routine, either playing the week before the Masters or opting for prep behind closed doors, Johnson said that he has no strong scheduling preference.

But after losing his opening match last week to Robert Streb, Johnson feared he’d be making an early exit in Austin. So he informed tournament officials last Thursday that he’d be teeing it up for just the third time since 2010.

“I felt like I needed to get some more rounds in. Especially after I lost the first round, I thought I was going to be out of there pretty quickly,” he said. “That’s why I decided to play here. I just felt like I needed to play a few more competitive rounds and get the game in really good shape going into Augusta.”

In doing so, Johnson took a page out of the patented Mickelson notebook, which makes this event an annual staple of his Masters prep.

“It gives you an opportunity to really prepare for next week,” Mickelson said. “I’m trying to get my game sharp, and this tournament allows me the opportunity to sharpen it.”

Johnson seemed quite comfortable on a course that is purposely styled after Augusta National, and his game certainly appears plenty sharp. Should his strong play extend into the weekend, he could very well end up in the same conversation next week with the likes of Spieth, Watson, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.

Then again, he’s also fine to simply drive down Magnolia Lane and let his game do the talking.

“I just feel like myself going into next week,” Johnson said. “Ready to play.”

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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 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."

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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.