Mickelson off to fast start in LA

By Associated PressFebruary 19, 2009, 5:00 pm
Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES ' With a flop shot that was amazing even by his standards, Phil Mickelson took a step toward shaking off his West Coast doldrums Thursday with his best round ever at Riviera.
 
From 40 yards behind the 10th green, his ball buried in the rough and his landing area no bigger than a hub cap, Mickelsons barely cleared the bunker and settled 6 feet from the hole to start his day with a birdie.
 
It sent him to an 8-under 63 and a one-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open, a round Mickelson desperately needed after one of the worst starts to his career.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson was focused during his opening round in L.A. (Getty Images)
It was one of the better shots Ive hit this year, Mickelson said.
 
Thats not saying much considering this was the first time he has broken 70 on the Left Coast, where Lefty has compiled 16 of his 34 victories on the PGA Tour.
 
The rest of his game also was sharp. The misses werent nearly as wild, the putts dropped far more frequently and Mickelson picked up confidence with each of his eight birdies on a gorgeous morning off Sunset Boulevard.
 
Theres three more rounds to go, he said. But I feel like Im back on track.
 
Scott McCarron, so intimidated by Riviera when he played at UCLA that he wondered if he could ever break 70, birdied his last hole for a 64 to give himself another chance at a tournament where he has twice played in the final group without winning.
 
The group at 66 included Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, K.J. Choi and Luke Donald.
 
Mickelson is the defending champion at the Northern Trust Open and wildly popular in these parts, and he had a sizable gallery.
 
The photographers, though, belonged to 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa.
 
The Japanese sensation made his PGA Tour debut before about 100 members of the Japanese media, along with a dozen or so other media curious about the Shy Prince who made history at age 15 by winning on the Japan Golf Tour.
 
He opened with two-putt birdie on the par-5 first hole before running into problems with his putter, and he wound up with a 73. Ishikawa missed one par putt from 4 feet, and three-putted from 5 feet for a double bogey on the seventh.
 
I had been nervous for 18 holes, he said. I feel like my body has been stiff all day.
 
Stuart Appleby was on the putting green, looking down on the 18th at Ishikawa saving par from the side of the hill and a circle of cameras around him.
 
This is like the Truman Show, he said.
 
The other PGA Tour debut belonged to Vincent Johnson, playing on the Charlie Sifford Exemption that is awarded to a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.
 
He birdied his first hole with a wedge to tap-in range on the tricky 10th hole and calmed his nerves while shooting 70.
 
That set the tone for the day, Johnson said. I said to myself, I can do this.
 
He also was one of the few players to ever drive onto the 12th green, although Johnson was teeing off on No. 11. His ball caught a tree and landed on the adjacent green.
 
It was a little embarrassing, he said. But then I hit a 4-iron into the trees, punched out short and got my par. I knew if I had anything around par, I would be playing decent.
 
Mickelson hasnt been too far away from par in his first three starts on the West Coast, where he has had at least one top 10 every year since his first full season in 1993. He missed the cut in Phoenix, tied for 42nd at Torrey Pines at 2-over 290, and had to birdie the last hole at Pebble Beach to make the cut at 2-under par.
 
He went through five buckets of balls on the range at Pebble Beach in the rain Sunday, had three good days of practice, went back to the old shafts in his irons and eliminated the mistakes that had been dragging him down.
 
When you dont play well, youre not going to rest until you get back on track, Mickelson said. Todays score, it was obviously a good round, but I didnt feel that I played immaculate. I still feel a thought its coming. The reason why the score was so low is I ended up making some putts, and I holed a chip, and I got up-and-down on every green that I missed, which is helpful.
 
He chipped in for birdie on the par-5 17th after his wedge spun off the front of the green. The most pure shot was a 4-iron on the 244-yard fourth hole that stopped a foot away.
 
Even so, nothing topped his opening hole.
 
With a hole location back and to the right on one of the best short par 4s in golf, Mickelson wanted to go in the front bunker to give himself a chance to blast it close on the 302-yard hole. Instead, it sailed over the green, over the back bunker and into rough near the sandy cart path lining the 11th tee box.
 
His flop shot with a full swing came out perfectly, landing on the collar and stopping 6 feet away. Even his caddie, Jim Mackay, who has seen plenty of spectacular shots, was shaking his head.
 
Obviously, the way to play this hole is go 40 yards long into a bad lie, he said.
 
Mickelson wasnt as forthcoming.
 
Ive played that hole very effectively the last couple of years, and have played it under par and bettered the field average, he said, pausing to smile. And Id rather not say what Im trying to do there.
 

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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.”