The Lost Summer of Phil Mickelson

By Associated PressAugust 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
Beneath a blistering sun and surrounded by cheers, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson climbed the steep hill together toward the clubhouse at Southern Hills.
They were separated by some 30 yards. And they could not have been farther apart.
This was Saturday at the PGA Championship, the final major of the year. Mickelson was on the 18th green, finishing another round over par that left him in the middle of the pack. Woods was making the turn on the adjacent ninth green, on his way to winning another major.
The scene spoke volumes of their divergent seasons.
Only three months earlier, Mickelson was walking up another hill toward the sprawling clubhouse of the TPC Sawgrass, his arm draped around the shoulder of swing coach Butch Harmon after a victory at THE PLAYERS Championship.
It set the stage for what figured to be another run at the world's No. 1 player.
What followed was Lefty's lost summer.
'My performance in the majors has been disappointing,' Mickelson said as he sat in front of his locker, a tinge of gray hair starting to show around the ears. He is 37, still in his prime, but an age when lost years are tougher to get back.
An injury to his left wrist at the end of May caused him to withdraw in the middle of one tournament, pull out of two other tournaments and was a big reason why he missed the cut in three tournaments.
Some of the lowlights:
  • He finished over par in all four majors for the first time.
  • He failed to record a top 10 in the majors for only the second time.
  • Since turning pro in 1992, Mickelson had missed five cuts in the majors. This year he missed the cut in two.
    Most of this was out of his hands, if not his wrist.
    He says the injury stemmed from one of his marathon practice sessions for a major, chipping constantly out of the thick grass at Oakmont a week before the U.S. Open. Whatever the case, he couldn't play as much as he wanted or practice how he wanted.
    Those close to Mickelson said he could not swing without pain until a week ago. He is starting to hit balls without wincing, but what makes him shudder is the calendar. This is the time of the year when Lefty goes into hibernation.
    Instead, he plans to play four straight weeks during the FedExCup playoffs, the Presidents Cup, and then two weeks off before an unusually busy schedule in the fall.
    Mickelson said he would play the Fry's Electronics Open at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he remains a member. Even rarer is a two-week trip to Asia in early November for the Singapore Open and the HSBC Champions in China.
    The majors are over.
    Mickelson is just now starting to get his hands dirty.
    He is working on some new equipment from Callaway, and he feels as though he can finally resume work with Harmon that began at the end of April.
    'Rather than shutting it down, I want to practice and I want to be in competition,' Mickelson said. 'I want to continue to work with Butch and develop the long game. I've been prohibited from doing that the last 10 weeks.'
    The year has not been a total loss. Mickelson looked as good as ever when he won by five shots at Pebble Beach, and he nearly made it two in a row at Riviera until a poor chip on the 72nd hole dropped him into a playoff won by Charles Howell III.
    And he does not take The Players Championship lightly.
    'Winning the Players is the next best tournament to win, so that salvages the year,' he said. 'And I'm excited about the FedEx Cup, which I didn't expect to be.'
    Mickelson finished the regular season more than 14,000 points behind Woods. But when the playoffs begin next week in New York, most likely without Woods, the points will be reset and Mickelson will be only 2,000 points back as the No. 4 seed.
    'If I play well, I have a good chance of being the inaugural champion,' Mickelson said.
    Would that also salvage his year?
    Probably, although even Mickelson is still trying to grasp the significance of the FedEx Cup.
    'When Horton Smith won the first, he had no idea what the allure of the Masters would become,' Mickelson said. 'And there's a good chance the FedEx Cup will one day have that same allure. There's also a chance that in four years from now, it will be a flop. I don't know.'
    Given his year, there's no telling how he will fare the next four weeks. Mickelson points to a season that includes two victories and two playoff losses (Nissan Open, Scottish Open), along with three missed cuts.
    'There has been no middle of the road for me this year,' he said.
    Mickelson finished his year in the majors with 16 consecutive pars, a string broken with his birdie on the 17th hole that gave him a 69 and a tie for 32nd in the PGA Championship.
    So ended a streak of three straight years winning a major, which sets him apart from the other top challengers to Woods' domain. Ernie Els also has three majors, none since 2002. Vijay Singh won his third major in 2004 and hasn't sniffed one since.
    Woods has competition, but seemingly no serious threat.
    For Mickelson, the next four months might determine whether he can be one again.
    Related Links:
  • Mickelson's 2007 Results
    Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.