Mickelson concludes wild week with satisfying win

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2009, 5:00 pm
Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES ' Riviera felt like a roller coaster to Phil Mickelson to the very end.
 
Never mind the four scores he put together at the Northern Trust Open to successfully defend his title on Sunday. He opened with a personal-best 63 and was nine shots worse the next day. Butch Harmon arrived Saturday morning to help stabilize his swing, and Lefty went even lower with a 62 to take command.
 
Then came another 1-over 72, and it was just enough to avoid the biggest collapse of his career.
 
Mickelson rolled in a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory over Steve Stricker, and while it wasnt the most memorable of his 35 career victories on the PGA Tour, it was no less satisfying.
 
It gives me confidence and something to build on for the rest of the year, Mickelson said. Even when I didnt have my best stuff, I was able to fight through it. That meant a lot to me. I certainly have some work to do. But at least Im on the right path, the right direction. And Im having some success now, even without maybe my best stuff.
 
Stricker closed with a 67, making bogey on the 18th hole that he knew would cost him.
 
Another stroke back was the real heartbreak of Riviera ' Fred Couples, 49 and in his last full season on the PGA Tour, rejuvenated on a course where he has won twice and considers his favorite this side of Augusta National. Couples missed two birdies inside 8 feet on the front nine, and trailing by only one shot on the 18th, fanned a shot into the eucalyptus trees and made bogey for a 69.
 
He tied for third with Andres Romero (70) and K.J. Choi (69).
 
Mickelson joined Ben Hogan, Corey Pavin and Mike Weir as the only repeat winners at Riviera, and he felt a sense of relief and satisfaction as he hoisted the trophy beneath the fabled clubhouse off Sunset Boulevard.
 
He was in a position he had never been in during his 17 years on tour, then in a spot that was all too familiar.
 
Starting the final round with a four-shot lead, Mickelson watched his tee shots fly all over Riviera ' into the trees and a barranca on the right, into trees and the thick rough to the right, and it didnt take long for his cushion to get deflated.
 
He has never blown a lead that large in his career, but when Stricker made three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, he suddenly had a one-shot lead. Mickelson fell two shots behind when he found the bunker on the par-3 14th and missed a 7-foot par putt, and remained two behind with three holes to play.
 
I had a five-shot lead, and I let it slide, Mickelson said, alluding to his 40-foot eagle at the start of the round.
 
The recovery was swift and impressive.
 
Mickelson hit a strong 9-iron at the flag on the par-3 16th and saw it land 5 feet behind the hole. He made the tricky birdie putt, then hammered his best tee shot of the round on the par-5 17th, allowing him to reach the green with a 3-wood. He two-putted from 70 feet, again making a tough 6-footer down the slope.
 
That allowed him to regain the lead when Stricker missed out on two opportunities.
 
Coming off a blown three-shot lead of his own at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, when high wind sent him to a devastating quadruple bogey on the 10th hole in the desert, Stricker was poised to deliver a knockout punch until missing a 12-foot birdie on the 17th.
 
Then came a hooked tee shot that kept him from reaching the green, and a pedestrian chip that left him 12 feet from the hole for par. He missed that, and suspected it would cost him.
 
I had a good putt at it, he said of the 18th. But I was really looking to make that one at 17. Its just a little disappointing when you dont finish it off, or have the opportunity to finish it off. And I didnt do it.
 
Mickelson took a one-shot lead with his birdie on the 17th, but the work was just beginning.
 
It was only two years ago when he thought he had the tournament wrapped up, leading by one shot on the 18th tee. But he hit his tee shot well left of the fairway, missed the green, made a sloppy bogey and wound up in a playoff that he ended up losing.
 
Another thing that was important to me was standing on the 18th tee, when two years ago I had a one-shot lead, drove in the rough and made a bogey, Mickelson said. That meant a lot to be able to put that tee shot on the fairway.
 
It still wasnt easy from there. His 6-iron was just off the green, 60 feet away, and the putt came up 6 feet short.
 
Stricker was standing on the steps of the clubhouse when he saw what Mickelson had to do for his winning par, and only then did he head for the range. But he wasnt there long. Stricker has been around long enough to know what a big cheer means from around the 18th green, and he put his clubs away.
 
It was exciting to get into the thick of things, he said.
 
Couples wasnt sure what to make of his chances. The last time he played in a final group was the 2006 Masters, where Mickelson pulled away late in the round. Adding to the complexity of the week was that his estranged wife, Thais, died Tuesday of breast cancer.
 
They had been in divorce proceedings for more than three years, and Couples said he is not welcome in their Santa Barbara home. It was hard to detect how emotional the week was; only Couples knows that.
 
For Mickelson, it was important to get on track before the tour left the West Coast, where he now has won 17 times.
 
He finished at 15-under 269, moves up to No. 3 in the world ranking and head to Arizona for the Accenture Match Play Championship, where Tiger Woods will return from knee surgery after eight months.
 
Strangely enough, that was Mickelsons first victory since Woods left.
 
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  • LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

    Parity reigned.

    Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

    Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

    Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

    Rolex Player of the Year
    Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

    It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


    Vare Trophy
    Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

    There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


    CME Globe $1 million prize
    Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

    By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


    LPGA money-winning title
    Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

    The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

    Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


    Rolex world No. 1 ranking
    The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


    Rolex Rookie of the Year
    Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    “Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

    Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

    “Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

    Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

    Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

    In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

    She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

    How did she evaluate her season?

    “I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

    “It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

    Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

    “Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

    “I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

    For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

    You have to give her that.

    So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

    They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

    The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

    It was so close to being spectacular.

    She was so close to dominating this year.

    That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

    Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

    Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

    “It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

    “No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

    “We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

    Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

    She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

    There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

    Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

    There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

    For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

    This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

    After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

    “I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

    She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

    Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

    Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

    Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

    She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

    “Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

    Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

    “This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

    Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

    “It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

    Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

    It worked.

    “I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

    Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

    Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

    By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

    The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

    Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

    The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

    Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

    Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

    Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

    A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

    With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

    And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

    “I have no idea,” he laughed.

    Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

    The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

    The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

    “So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

    While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

    Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

    Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

    The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

    All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

    Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

    Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.