Euros look to end winless drought Sunday at Sawgrass

By Will GrayMay 11, 2014, 1:00 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Twenty-five events have come and gone during the 2013-14 season on the PGA Tour.

Many of the names in the winner’s circle have ranged from “surprising” to “I could not successfully pick him out of a lineup,” but they have all shared one common bond: they’re not from Europe.

While Australia has attempted to take over Tim Finchem’s circuit this year, one victory at a time, the contingent from across the Pond is still 0-fer. There have certainly been some close calls – notably, Rory McIlroy’s successful surrender at PGA National and Matt Kuchar’s bunker hole-out to beat Luke Donald last month at Harbour Town.

But during a Ryder Cup year, when the biggest and best from Europe are expected to shine as the season progresses, their collective trophy haul remains as bare as the section of Ian Poulter’s mantle set aside for majors.

That could all change Sunday at The Players Championship.

While TPC Sawgrass has already dispatched several top Americans, freeing up Phil Mickelson’s weekend plans and humbling former major champs in Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, the European armada has shown up in a big way through three rounds.

There are a total of four European flags flying in the top 10 heading into the final round, a tally that would have been five if not for Justin Rose’s two-shot penalty for microscopically moving his ball behind the 18th green. The group is led by Martin Kaymer, a former world No. 1 who is in search of his first win on U.S. soil since the 2010 PGA Championship.

Kaymer equaled the course record with a 63 during the opening round, and after an even-par 72 on Saturday, shares the lead with Jordan Spieth. The German explained that sometimes the deck can be stacked against Europeans trying to win on American soil.

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“When you’re trying to win a big tournament, usually the big tournaments, you play them in America, so I’m always a foreigner,” Kaymer said. “It’s a good challenge.”

While Kaymer will tee off Sunday in the best position among the Euros, the sentimental choice is likely Sergio Garcia. While only three Europeans have won this event – and none since Stenson in 2009 – Garcia is among that select group after his playoff win in 2008.

The Spaniard’s relationship with the Stadium Course remains a tumultuous one following last year’s near-miss, but it’s a venue where, by and large, he has had success. After missing the cut at the Masters in his previous start, Garcia is happy to be back on a course that has largely been kind to him – and his play this week reflects it.

“They say that there’s courses for horses,” he said. “I see too many shots at Augusta. Here, I see less shots. I see, in my head, I have everything a bit more clear of what I want to do.”

Garcia has won just once in the U.S. since his triumph at TPC Sawgrass, having also won the 2012 Wyndham Championship.  After a third-round 69 that left him three shots behind Kaymer and co-leader Jordan Spieth, he noted some surprise that a European has yet to win in the States this season.

“It’s such a thin line between winning and finishing second or third,” Garcia said. “I’ve been close a couple times, Justin (Rose) has been close, Luke (Donald) has been very close…It’s not like we haven’t had chances.”

Still on the outer edge of contention sit a pair of Ryder Cup veterans in Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari, five shots back among a tie for eighth. Westwood has had close calls at TPC Sawgrass before, and has cracked the top 10 in two of his last three appearances in Ponte Vedra.

Molinari has had more limited success in this event, following a ninth-place finish in his debut in 2010 with three straight missed cuts. He fired a 5-under 67 in the third round, though, a score that equaled the low round of the day and gave the 31-year-old reason for optimism.

“I think there’s still, if you play well, there are a few chances out there,” Molinari said. “I’m happy with where I am at the moment.”

Recent success against the U.S. has been a point of pride for Europeans, who currently possess the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and U.S. Open trophies. The continent as a whole could go winless for the balance of the season and still head to Gleneagles as favorites when the Ryder Cup is again up for grabs in September.

With many top Americans either on the couch or well down in the standings, the fact remains: Sunday presents a high-profile opportunity to stake the European flag atop one of the biggest events the U.S. has to offer.

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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.

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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.