Fowler, Day flying high on newfound confidence

By Will GrayAugust 4, 2015, 10:05 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Coming down the stretch of his practice round Tuesday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Rickie Fowler found himself in a familiar position: back against the wall, needing to deliver. Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer had Fowler and Jimmy Walker 1-down after 16 holes, with pride – not to mention some pocket change – on the line.

Needing to come up with the goods, Fowler calmly delivered a birdie on the penultimate hole and another on the final green, a curling 20-footer that drew a wry smile from Spieth, who then poured in a birdie of his own to draw the match.

Fowler’s final putt was center-cut, and he walked it in with the confidence of someone whose game has reached a new level, whether the stakes are a trophy or a friendly wager. The transformation from a player burdened with expectation and untapped potential to one who now regularly delivers in the clutch has been both quick and profound.

While the breakthrough came with his other-worldly finish to win The Players Championship, Fowler quickly followed that up with a victory at the Scottish Open. With a runner-up finish at the Quicken Loans National, he is back to No. 5 in the world rankings, tied for his career best.

After beginning this season with the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship as his lone win in 141 PGA Tour starts, Fowler has quickly vaulted into the game’s upper echelon.

“Really since The Players, my comfort has jumped another level or five or so,” Fowler said. “Just kind of being in that situation the last four, five, however many holes and knowing that I can pull out the good swings and make putts and make stuff happen. So it’s fun to know I have that.”

Like Fowler, Jason Day entered the season in the highly unscientific category of “players who probably should win more,” with two victories in 151 PGA Tour starts. He added a third with a playoff victory at the Farmers Insurance Open in February, then rallied to win the RBC Canadian Open in his most recent start.

Only days removed from heartbreak at the Open Championship, Day birdied each of his final three holes in Canada to finish one shot clear of the pack. While he has been a perennial contender in recent years, the Aussie shared Tuesday that his mindset was different during the final round at Glen Abbey.

“It was funny, that Sunday, I was a lot more calm,” he said. “I just felt different that day compared to any other Sunday where I was in contention, whether it was a major or a normal PGA Tour event. And I just, for some reason, I just knew everything’s OK. No matter what, keep plugging along.”

His explosive celebration after his 72nd-hole birdie evoked comparisons with Tiger Woods, and Day remains eager to build upon the momentum that collecting trophies can create.

“It’s obviously powerful to draw on, but on top of it, you’ve got to go out and execute the shot,” he said. “Doing stuff like that is not easy. It may look easy, but it’s not easy to do.”

Winning begets winning, especially on the highest level. Rory McIlroy had gone nearly a year without a victory since switching to Nike before breaking through at the Australian Open in November 2013, a victory that helped propel him to a four-win season in 2014. Spieth broke a similar victory drought last year in Oz, and he has since reached nearly unprecedented heights.

Whether Fowler or Day ascend to that stratosphere remains to be seen, but the pair is clearly benefiting from one of the game’s most precious commodities – the confidence boost that only comes from a spot in the winner’s circle.

Day narrowly missed out on the playoff at St. Andrews when he left his final birdie putt short, and he flashed back to that stroke when faced with a similar putt in Canada. The weight of the situation was evident, as was his relief when that particular shot found the target after so many prior near-misses.

“To turn around so quick and hole the putt on the 72nd hole at the Canadian Open, I mean it was a good way to turn around,” he said. “Know that I can do it and show people that I can do it, and stomp my foot on the ground and say, ‘No, that’s enough. I can get it done.’”

Day and Fowler have long had the game to contend against the world’s best. But confidence is fickle, and trophies are hard to come by.

Each buoyed from recently “getting it done,” their confidence is at an all-time high – just in time for one of the Tour’s most lucrative fortnights.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.