Castrale Takes Lead in Futures Tour Event
Castrale, of Palm Desert, Calif., played the back nine first at Palm View Golf Course and toured that side at 5-under 31 on a windless morning. Then the former University of Southern California player and LPGA Tour member cruised in as the clubhouse leader at 2 under on her second nine, recording 29 putts, hitting 18 greens and finding 11 fairways in her bogey-free round.
'We were expecting it to be windy, but it was pretty calm today,' said Castrale, who played by her maiden name of Nicole Dalkas until January, when she married caddie/husband Craig Castrale. 'I guess it's about time to start trusting it and let it happen out here.'
The difference in Friday's opening round of the 54-hole event had much to do with the absence of that notorious Texas wind. In her practice round earlier in the week, Castrale used a driver, 4-wood and wedge to reach the 488-yard, into-the-wind par-5 10th hole in regulation. In today's first round, she was able to use driver and 4-wood to land just off the green, setting up a chip and a tap-in birdie putt.
'I just executed each shot,' she said. 'Sometimes, you take what you get.'
Fellow USC Trojan Becky Lucidi of Poway, Calif., turned in a 68 in the morning's first group and Futures Tour rookie Jessica Krasny of Summerville, S.C., also carded a 68 for a share of the clubhouse lead with Lucidi. But Castrale, who seemed remarkably focused in practice three days before the first shot of competition, grabbed the lead for keeps. Only one other player came within a shot of her sparkling opener.
'I prefer hot weather,' admitted Virada Nirapathpongporn of Bangkok, Thailand, who tossed in her own sizzling score of 6-under-par 66 to trail the leader by one. The former NCAA champion from Duke University played the course's four par-5 holes at 5 under par, adding an eagle-3 on the ninth hole. She used her 3-wood from 228 yards to reach the green in two, then drained a 36-foot putt for eagle.
'I had the little fist pump there,' she said with a laugh. 'I learned that from Thailand.'
Celebrating her 23rd birthday the day before, Nirapathpongporn gratefully accepted the gift of a windless first round in Texas and hit 16 greens and 11 fairways. She recorded six birdies, one eagle and two bogeys for the day.
'I played like a 66 today,' said Nirapathpongporn, who tied for seventh at the Thailand Ladies Open two weeks ago. 'I didn't scrape it around out there with a bunch of lucky bounces.'
Su A Kim of Seoul, Korea and Sun Young Yoo, also of Seoul, tied at 3-under 69, followed by rookie Mollie Fankhauser of Columbus, Ohio, Kristin Dufour of Austin, Texas and amateur Taylor Leon of Dallas, all at 2-under-par 70. Leon is a high school student at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Fifteen players tied at 1-under 71, while 14 players tied at even-par 72.
Saturday's second round will begin at 8 a.m., off the first and tenth tees. The leaders will tee off at 1:51 p.m.
How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.
Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.
Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.
“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”
When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.
Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.
Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.
“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”
Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.
With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.
“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”
Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.
As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”
Even as youngest Euro, Rahm has no trouble fitting in
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Many times Ryder Cup rookies are seen but not heard, blending into the background while the veterans lead.
Jon Rahm is not one of those rookies.
The youngest player on the European Ryder Cup team – by three years – the gregarious 23-year-old has been particularly active in the team’s group chat.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Jon’s input into it,” said Rory McIlroy, who will likely be paired with Rahm at some point at Le Golf National.
“To see how much he wants this and how he cares about the Ryder Cup and how proud he is to be European and Spanish and to really be a part of this, it’s been really cool to see. I wasn’t quite as vocal in my first Ryder Cup as he’s been, but I wasn’t as good a player my first Ryder Cup as he is.”
Rahm seemed surprised that his healthy amount of input caught McIlroy’s attention – “I’m just being myself,” he said – but he quickly has learned how to fit in with the rest of his teammates.
By poking fun at himself.
After a Tuesday practice round with McIlroy during which he said he was outdriven by about 50 yards, Rahm retired to the physio table for some acupuncture treatment.
“Because of jetlag, I was completely asleep,” Rahm said. “So Rory, he decided it was a perfect time to take a picture of me in my underwear and post it in the chat and say I couldn’t handle him hitting it past me every single drive. Obviously you have to protect yourself and respond to something like that, and I said whatever came to mind.”
With Rahm’s passion and outgoing nature, he’s sure to be one of Europe’s most vocal players, even as the least experienced.
“At first I was a little bit hesitant on what to say,” he said. “I didn’t want to piss anybody off, but once I realized what the tone was going to be, within 30 seconds, OK, here we go, it’s pretty much freewheel to say what you want to anybody, which is obviously a great thing because we all have a lot of fun.”
Slump over? Sergio had 'very positive week' in Portugal
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Sergio Garcia’s late commitment to the Portugal Masters may have given him the boost he needed for the Ryder Cup.
After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, Garcia told European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn that he’d add the European Tour event in Portugal if he were selected to the team as a wildcard pick.
Garcia made good on his promise, and last week he tied for seventh – his best worldwide finish since March.
“I was very pleased the way I played,” he said. “I think I played very, very nicely throughout the whole week, which was nice. It felt like it was a very positive week.”
There hadn’t been many positive weeks throughout the year for Garcia, who has slipped from 10th to 28th in the world rankings. The 2017 Masters champion missed the cut in all four majors and struggled with inconsistency.
Still, Garcia was selected to the European team, and Bjorn often cited Garcia’s intangibles – his familiarity with foursomes, his presence in the team room – in justifying his pick.
Even Garcia conceded Wednesday that his selection had more to do with experience than form.
“That’s probably, to be totally honest, one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team,” he said, “not only for what I can bring on the golf course, but what I can bring outside.”
Garcia may have found the spark that his game desperately needed. Six of his past eight rounds have been in the 60s, and he has shot a combined 27 under par during those two starts.