Prize fighters: Lovemark, Herman playing for Masters berth

By Will GrayApril 2, 2016, 11:50 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – The race is on for golf’s final golden ticket.

A win at any point in the PGA Tour season is a welcome result, bringing with it a bevy of perks. But this particular week at the Shell Houston Open offers players just one perk - the simplest, yet most coveted perk of all. 

Lift the trophy on Sunday, and your next stop is the front gate at Augusta National.

It’s the kind of stuff that players dream about, a motivator that can drive hours of offseason practice. And for Jamie Lovemark and Jim Herman, it’s tantalizingly close after three rounds at the Golf Club of Houston.

But Lovemark and Herman aren’t just playing for the chance to take their first trip down Magnolia Lane. They’re also playing for their first Tour victory.

The two have taken very different paths to this point. Lovemark, 28, was a can’t-miss prospect who has battled injury and is now beginning to play to the level many expected when he first turned pro in 2009.

Herman, meanwhile, is a 38-year-old journeyman who has bounced between circuits and just last season made the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time.

But now they are united in the spotlight, sharing the 54-hole lead and sitting one shot clear of a potent chase pack.

Lovemark began the day one shot behind Charley Hoffman, but a 2-under 70 gave him a share of the overnight lead for the first time in his career. Seven years after losing a playoff at the Frys.com Open, he is older, wiser, healthier and eager to close the deal.


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“That was my third or fourth event as a pro. Things seemed kind of easy,” Lovemark said. “Hindsight, it’s not too easy after all. I’m not taking much for granted, just going to do what I do.”

Herman moved into contention with a bogey-free 68, channeling form that seemingly came out of nowhere. He had only one top-40 finish in eight starts this year, and Herman hadn’t broken 70 in his last 10 rounds entering the week.

But now he has strung three straight sub-70 scores together, and with only a handful of top-10 finishes to his credit he is on the cusp of a breakthrough victory.

“Houston or any of the other places would be fantastic, just to get one,” Herman said. “I’ve been out here five years, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow. If it goes my way, that would be awesome.”

Lovemark and Herman will have to cope with the crucible that Sunday’s final pairing creates, but their quest is also complicated by the pedigree of players hot on their heels. Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Russell Henley all have multiple Tour wins, and each is eager to add another.

For Stenson especially, it’s a chance to end an 18-month victory drought that has included a myriad of close calls.

“I know I can play my best, and hopefully bring that out on the final days as well,” Stenson said. “I think some of my fellow colleagues might have been more fortunate in those situations, and a few times I haven’t delivered what I need to deliver. It’s been a bit of a combo, but I’d love to get on the No. 1 podium.”

Ever the cool customer, Lovemark strode to the podium after his third round and said all the right things: a win’s a win, whether it comes here or elsewhere. The focus remains on getting the job done, stamping your name as the best for at least one week at the highest level. A Masters invitation is merely icing on the cake.

“Not too concerned about it, honestly,” he said. “If I play next week, that’s great. Obviously a win on any level is very important to me.”

But this isn’t just any other week we’re talking about. Players can use the SHO as golf’s fastest launching pad, teeing it up in the season’s first major before the trophy even has a chance to collect dust.

Plus, you know, it’s Augusta National. It’s the Masters. The place – and the event – speak for themselves.

“You know there’s a lot to play for tomorrow,” Herman said. “You think about it coming into the week. This is your last chance to get to Augusta, but it’s more than that. I’m not going to put any more pressure on myself than I already might.”

For Herman and Lovemark, this could be the point at which their professional career paths pivot. This could be the event that transforms them from “PGA Tour member” to “PGA Tour winner.” It’s a distinction that both covet, and one that can’t be erased.

To do it, they’ll need to outlast each other, not to mention those in close pursuit, under pressures that are largely unfamiliar. But if they manage to pull it off, they’ll not only graduate to a new tier professionally, they’ll get to take the best post-victory trip the game offers.

Golden tickets, after all, come around only so often.

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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 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.


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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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.