Lefty Still Lovin the Long Ball
Last year, he was so determined to keep his tee shots in the short grass that he went to a controlled fade off the tee, although that meant giving up distance. He couldn't argue with the results. Mickelson won his first major at the Masters, and was five shots away from a chance to win the Grand Slam.
What will Phil do next?
He won the FBR Open by a career-high five shots on Sunday, making birdies from the desert and saving par after hitting into the water. When it was over, someone asked him if hitting fairways was overrated.
'No, it's certainly important. Don't get me wrong,' he said. 'It's not overrated, but I think distance is underrated right now. I think that you've got to move the ball out there.'
His short game was as phenomenal as ever, but what made Phoenix such a fun week for Mickelson was the long ball.
'I drove the ball a lot longer than I think I have in years, and was able to have a lot of short irons in,' he said.
Mickelson went with a 3-wood off the tee on the par-5 13th because he was belting his driver in the 340-yard range, and he needed something less to land in the fat part of the fairway. Never mind that he pulled it into the desert; he still had a shot to the green and wound up with a birdie.
Then on the 14th, he felt he needed to 'chip a driver.'
'I just want to take 40, 50 yards off of it and get it out there about 290,' Mickelson said.
That sounds a lot like the Mickelson of old, like the time he talked about taking '8 yards off a stock driver' on the par-4 eighth hole at Bay Hill.
But that's one thing that makes Mickelson so fascinating - and at times so hard to figure out.
A year ago, the focus was on fairways.
'Because I've kept it in play, the course seems to be so much easier,' Mickelson said last year when he was in contention every Sunday leading to his Masters victory. 'I think after 33 years, I've figured it out.'
How quickly he forgets.
Mickelson was looking at the statistics from last year when he noticed he had a higher percentage of fairways hit than the three guys he was chasing - Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
But he trailed all of them in distance.
'When I had sacrificed 15 yards last year, I knew that I needed to make a change,' Mickelson said after winning in Phoenix. 'Ultimately, you saw the change in September. But I knew that I had to do that if I wanted to get back to being able to play at this level.'
In some respects, the statistics bear that out.
Mickelson hit 63.6 percent of his fairways last year through the PGA Championship, when he won twice and had a chance to win all four majors. By the end of the year, he had dipped to 59.9 percent. And from the PGA Championship in August through the FBR Open last week, he has hit 58.5 percent of the fairways.
Mickelson has been testing his new Callaway equipment since September to find which driver-ball combination allows him to hit it straight without sacrificing distance. He believes he has figured it out, and his victory Sunday - after starting the year with two finishes out of the top 10 - gave him good vibes heading to Pebble Beach.
'I can't wait for next week,' he said. 'I can't wait to get out to the course and practice. I'm loving playing and ecstatic about the way things are set up in my bag.'
If the emphasis has returned to distance, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Singh smashes driver off just about every tee, figuring that if he lands in the rough, he can still make par at worst by being that much closer to the green. Woods is longer off the tee than he has been the past several years; his swing coach, Hank Haney, said power is important for Woods to regain his dominance.
As for the go-for-broke style that Mickelson adores?
He's right. That will never change. Mickelson has such supreme confidence that he only sees possibilities, not consequences. Some people blame his bad shots on poor decisions. Mickelson attributes them to poor execution.
One such occasion was Pebble Beach four years ago.
Mickelson was one shot behind on the par-5 18th and 257 yards from the green. Instead of relying on his wedge game - the best on tour - he hit driver off the deck with hopes of making an eagle, or at least a simple birdie. Instead, he put it in the Pacific Ocean and made double bogey.
There are three things about Mickelson that fall into the category of death and taxes.
His wedge game is among the best. Even when he was missing fairways in Phoenix, Mickelson knew that he only had to get it around the green to save par, or even make birdie.
Another constant is winning. Mickelson has gone only three years without a PGA Tour victory dating to his junior year at Arizona State - one of those was his rookie season, the other two in years his wife had an uneasy pregnancy. His 24 tour victories are second only to Woods (41) and Singh (25) among his peers.
And the third sure thing about Mickelson?
He always makes the game entertaining.
Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia
Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.
Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.
Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.
Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.
It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.
The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.
Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son
ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.
Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.
''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''
They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.
''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''
Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.
''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''
Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.
Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.
Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.
Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?
Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.
Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”
Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.
Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.