Harrington Mickelson hope to lead by example

By Associated PressSeptember 18, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupLOUISVILLE, Ky. ' Call them the reluctant leaders of this Ryder Cup.
 
For the Americans, Phil Mickelson. For the Europeans, Padraig Harrington.
 
Both are three-time major champions ' heck, Harrington has won the last two, his victories in the British Open and PGA Championship making him the hottest player on the planet, at least until Tiger Woods recovers from knee surgery.
 
Just dont look for either of these guys to provide stirring words or wear their emotions on their sleeves at Valhalla Golf Club.
 
Hopefully Ill lead by example this week and by approaching the game the right way, Harrington said. Not allowing myself to get too high or too low in the course of matches.
 
Win one for the Gipper, thats not.
 
On an American team that has six rookies but no Woods, Mickelson would seem the logical candidate to carry the red, white and blue load into golfs grandest team event.
 
But Lefty took a pass on any sort of leadership role. Instead, he deferred to U.S. captain Paul Azinger, who wont swing the club at all this weekend.
 
My only responsibility is to play well, Mickelson said. I think Captain Azinger has been a wonderful leader for us. Hes been a great captain and given us great direction.
 
Wheres Monty when you need him?
 
Colin Montgomerie was the type of guy who thrived in this format, for reasons that still seem a bit fuzzy. The shots that befuddled him in his fruitless pursuit of a major title always seemed to go right when the Ryder Cup was on the line. Teammates that found him persnickety and pompous in the week-to-week grind of tournament play rallied around him when they were all working toward the same goal.
 
But Montgomerie wasnt chosen for this European team, which leaves Sergio Garcia as the most likely emotional leader for the defending champs.
 
Thats just fine with Harrington.
 
I dont get the highs and lows that maybe other guys get, he said. I tend to keep it nice and solid and consistent.
 
Harringtons Ryder Cup record is rather unimpressive (7-8-2) but he did come through big time for the Europeans in 2004. Paired with Montgomerie in the first match at Oakland Hills, they took on the American dream team of Woods and Mickelson.
 
When Mickelson pushed his drive at No. 18 up against a fence, the Europeans finished off an upset that set the tone for the entire match. The visitors romped to their biggest win ever on American soil, and matched their margin two years ago at the K Club in Harringtons homeland.
 
Mickelsons Ryder Cup record is even worse than Harringtons (9-12-4). Even so, he claims to relish the experience as he heads into his seventh appearance.
 
The week becomes a week where friendships are formed and memories occur that last a lifetime, he said. When youre playing in them, you dont realize thats the case, but now that Ive played in six ' this is my seventh Ryder Cup ' I look back at all my previous ones. Even though weve lost, weve had so many great memories from those weeks. Thats what I look forward to the most, getting to know the guys and hanging out with all the guys and having a fun week.
 
Mickelson considers the Americans a clear underdog, even with the home-course advantage.
 
I dont feel theres a question about that, he said. But it doesnt mean we cant come out and play well, with the help of the crowd and with a golf course thats very well suited for many of our players, have a great week and possibly come out on top.
 
For those who think the Americans are lugging too much emotional baggage, having lost five of the last six matches to Europe, including three straight, Mickelson points to a more impressive record in golfs other major team event, the Presidents Cup.
 
Facing the rest of the world in alternate years, the U.S. has lost once in seven matches.
 
I feel like the Presidents Cup has given us team competitions, team experiences, that weve done very well and succeeded in, Mickelson said. I dont know why we havent been able to play at the same level in the Ryder Cup.
 
Harrington is hoping to put the finishing touches on a magical season. After Woods won the U.S. Open, then headed off to have surgery on an ailing knee, the Irishman stepped in to fill the void as the worlds top player.
 
First, he defended his title at the British. Then, a follow-up in the PGA Championship. Over the last six majors, hes won half the time.
 
It would be fair to say Im a late bloomer and Im coming into the prime of my career at 37 years of age, he said. Ive been more focused on going out there and winning major tournaments by giving myself a chance in a number of them. I do expect to be there in the future and win some more.
 
As for his more immediate plans, Harrington expects to be paired up in at least one of his Ryder Cup matches with Graeme McDowell. The first-day pairings will be revealed Thursday night at the opening ceremony, though European captain Nick Faldo might have tipped his hand a bit when a British photographer caught his notebook jottings with a zoom lens.
 
Faldo had the initials RK and PH listed together, which would indicate hes considering matching Robert Karlsson with Harrington.
 
I dont think it would take any genius to figure out that I will play with the other Irishman on the team at some stage this week, Harrington said. When and where it happens is not clear as of yet. But Graeme is playing really nice golf and I will be keen to tee it up with him at some stage and get out there and play. Hes a really solid player and it looks like his mind is right and hes ready to go this week.
 
With Woods watching from home, does Harrington feel like hes become the sort of player that rivals fear?
 
Hardly.
 
I would expect that guys, if they tee is up against me, will believe they are in for a tough game, Harrington said. I dont think guys are scared, no.
 
The Americans once had players such as Lanny Wadkins and Raymond Floyd, whose emotional play would fire up their teammates in the Ryder Cup.
 
But now, they are struggling to find someone who can take over their leadership role that, even for Woods, never seemed to come comfortably.
 
Dont expect Mickelson to take it on now.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
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  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.