Lefty Gets More Than He Bargain For

By Associated PressJune 17, 2005, 4:00 pm
PINEHURST, N.C. -- Phil Mickelson lobbied all week to make a tough golf course even tougher, stopping just short of daring the U.S. Golf Association to plop down windmills and clown's-mouth cutouts on the greens.
On Friday, Mother Nature took over the course setup duties from the guys in blue blazers and reminded the left-hander to be careful what you wish for.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson found plenty of trouble Friday in his 7-over 77.
'It was very fair,' Mickelson said, carefully choosing his words, 'if you played well. You could get off to a quick start, especially the front nine. I didn't quite do that.
'But,' he said again a moment later, 'it was right there if you hit the right shots.'
Suffice it to say that Mickelson didn't - not off the tees, from the fairways and especially on the greens. He hit just eight of 15 fairways, eight of 18 greens and didn't make even one putt longer than 8 feet. He started on the back nine and made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13, a cruel preview of the four straight Mickelson made to close out his first nine holes.
The 7-over 77 scorecard he signed left him eight shots out of the lead at the halfway point. It also marked Mickelson's worst round at the Open since 1994, when he shot 79 at Oakmont on the final day. It was only his second season as a pro, and back then no one would have imagined that the supremely talented kid with the easy smile was tying the first few knots in a string of major championships failures that would extend to 42 and haunt him for the next 10 years.
The futility ended with a victory in the Masters last year. The rash mistakes and spectacular collapses became easier to forget, and the times when Mickelson played bravely and well - only to see someone else play better - were easier to remember.
The process was long, painful and often too public. Mickelson vowed to play more aggressively, then less. His convictions changed several times in the course of a single season, and his character got ripped each time. But the fix was relatively simple: better preparations, better decisions and the resolve to see things through. Whether it was the result of frustration or simply maturity hardly mattered.
Either way, that's what made Friday's disaster tough to see coming. Mickelson has added both a swing and short-game coach and they do the scouting work before major championships with a military precision that would shame NFL teams during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
Nine-hour practice rounds became par for the Pinehurst No. 2 course for Team Mickelson. Like everyone else, they knew the inverted, bowl-shaped greens would kick approach shots into some treacherous lies. But they went to the trouble of simulating just about every one.
Throw in long stretches on the driving range and practice green, with his coaches, Rick Smith and Dave Pelz, hovering nearby at nearly every moment, and you begin to understand why Mickelson strolled into the interview room on the eve of the Open and invited the USGA professors to get medieval with the final exam.
Mickelson's opening came when someone asked whether he could imagine the USGA making the same ill-advised setup choice they did for last year's Open at Shinnecock Hills, where dried-out greens turned some putting surfaces into miniature golf courses from Hell.
'Well, I'm a little biased because I would love to see that happen,' Mickelson said, to some laughter.
'It's always been my contention that if nobody can hit a green, I've got a pretty good chance,' he added, to more laughter. 'I'm not opposed to that occurring this week.'
He repeated it a few more times, in a few different appearances. But when he stopped to talk after his second round, all the bravado had been drained out of his face.
'It's a tough course because you just can't make birdies. The more you try to make birdies, the more bogeys you're going to make. I wasn't really trying to make birdies,' Mickelson said. 'I was just trying to salvage pars and had a tough time doing that. It's a tough golf course.'
Proof of that was collecting on every side of him. There are precious few birdies to be squeezed out of Pinehurst. The course played five strokes above par in the opening round and a slightly less grueling 4-over Friday. The total number of players under par, starting with co-leaders Olin Browne and defending champion Retief Goosen at 2-under, can be counted on one hand.
'You just can't play aggressive here,' Mickelson said, repeating himself almost as if he had found the mantra. 'You just can't. I think it's going to take 36 pars to have an outside shot at winning, and that's kind of what I'm going for.'
The days when Mickelson let one foot get too far in front of the other - only to stumble at the most inopportune moments - were supposed to be a thing of the past.
He might yet thrive in the even-tougher conditions expected through the weekend. But at the moment, a bad putting day midway through a tournament that Mickelson said couldn't be tough enough for his satisfaction has him looking more clownish than just about anything the USGA can do to the greens.
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.