Last shot at major glory for Mickelson

By Associated PressAugust 5, 2008, 4:00 pm
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2008 US Open 81x90BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' Phil Mickelson already had crossed the finish line the last time he showed up at Oakland Hills.
Now he can only hope he is hitting his stride.
Mickelson is the betting favorite at the PGA Championship, his last chance to win a major in a year that has been filled with disappointment at the biggest events.
There was a 75 in the third round of the Masters that knocked him out of contention. There were no drivers in his bag at the U.S. Open for two rounds. And he lost a ball at Royal Birkdale on his way to a 79 in the first round, a major that ended before he could settle in for a cup of tea.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson meets with the press Tuesday at Oakland Hills. (Getty Images)
Not that this year has been a disaster by any means.
This is a big week, Mickelson said Tuesday. Because right now my season, with just two wins, is just OK. But if I were able to come through on Sunday and win this event, it would make an OK year a great one.
It also might erase some sour memories of Oakland Hills.
Mickelson first met The Monster in 1996 and endured his worst finish in a U.S. Open over four rounds. He tied for 94th that week, 19 shots out of the lead. Even more forgettable was his last trip to Oakland Hills for the Ryder Cup in 2004.
He already was under more scrutiny than usual for switching from Titleist to Callaway a week before the Ryder Cup. Then he went two days away from his teammates, taking one day off and spending another day working on the adjacent North Course. U.S. captain Hal Sutton paired him with Tiger Woods, and while neither played well in both their losses, Lefty caught the brunt of the blame.
Sutton then benched him, saying Mickelson would be a cheerleader instead of a player.
It was a ragged finish to what had otherwise been a brilliant year for Mickelson, who won his first major at the Masters, was second at the U.S. Open, missed a playoff at the British Open by one shot and was two shots out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.
But his swing was gone long before he arrived at Oakland Hills for the Ryder Cup. That was when Mickelson used to pour so much into the majors that he had little left at the end of the year.
If last week was any indication, hes headed in the right direction.
Mickelson blew a chance to win the World Golf Championship at Firestone last week with three bogeys on the final four holes, although he explained Tuesday why he wasnt nearly as alarmed as everyone else.
Obviously, I didnt like the way I finished, he said. But I was so glad that I was in a position to compete for the championship, to get back into contention, to have an opportunity where every putt counted and put myself in a pressure situation heading into this event. I would have loved to have won last week ' theres no arguing that point. But I really needed to be there like I was.
Such is the aura of Mickelson, good and bad.
The winner at Firestone was Vijay Singh, a three-time major champion who, unlike Mickelson, has won a money title, PGA TOUR player of the year and was No. 1 in the world. Yet all the TV sports shows focused on the next day was Lefty.
Were they complimenting my outfit? Mickelson joked.
It wasnt his most unseemly collapse, but it still makes news. Mickelson had reason to find progress from what looked like a setback.
When Im playing a course, Im trying to take half the trouble out of play, he said. So I want to set up down the right edge of the fairway and hit a cut, and if I miss it left, it doesnt bother me. What bothers me is if I hook it.
Lefty caught the left edge of the green and found a bunker on No. 15, making bogey. He caught the left bunker on the 17th, leading to another bogey. And his hopes effectively ended with a blocked tee shot to the left rough on the 18th.
I dont look at that overly disappointed, he said. Because I missed it to the side I wanted to miss it.
It would help not to miss anything at Oakland Hills, a course that some believe might prove to be the toughest major of the year. It has been stretched out to just under 7,400 yards, a real beast for a par 70, and occasional showers this week figure to make it feel longer.
Its tougher than Torrey Pines, all things being equal, Geoff Ogilvy said.
Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a playoff after finishing at 1-under 283. Trevor Immelman won the Masters at 8-under 280. Padraig Harrington won the British Open at 3-over 283, but Ogilvy doesnt count Royal Birkdale because of 35 mph wind.
Nothing ever was going to get as tough as Birkdale. You could put an asterisk next to it, he said. The irony will be that the U.S. Open could be the easiest course we play all year.
The difficulty of Oakland Hills always has been the greens, so heavily contoured that they likely will be slower than some majors to keep it fair. And the length since Rees Jones got his hands on the course after the Ryder Cup is most noticeable on the par 3s, such as the downhill, 257-yard ninth and the 238-yard 17th, which played so long into a breeze Monday that Bart Bryant hit a driver.
If one of the big hitters is piping it, theyre going to have a good week, Bryant said.
Mickelson can only hope hes one of those guys, and a decent year for him turns into a great season by any measure.
Woods was in this position a year ago ' without a major for the year ' when he tied a major record with a 63 in the second round at Southern Hills and went on to defend his title in the PGA Championship.
Three years ago, that was Mickelson. He had gone four months without winning until going wire-to-wire to win at Baltusrol.
I had an OK year in 2005, a couple of wins, and looked at it as though it would make an OK year great, Mickelson said. And I feel the same way this year. Its been an OK year, but winning the last major could turn it into something special.
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”