Mickelson looking to shake his West Coast doldrums

By Associated PressFebruary 19, 2009, 5:00 pm
Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES ' Not even the player parking lot at Riviera was immune to a traffic jam. Phil Mickelson waited not only for the other courtesy cars to clear, but for attendants to move two orange cones and two golf bags so he could park in a special place.
 
Being the defending champion has its privileges.
 
Mickelson took a five-year hiatus from the Northern Trust Open, but he fell in love with the tournament upon his return. He lost in a playoff one year, then atoned for that with a two-shot victory last year.
 
Now, Riviera could be just what he needs.
 
Lefty usually thrives on the Left Coast, with 16 victories and 40 finishes in the top 10. But this has been a dismal start to his season, having missed the cut in Phoenix and failing to crack the top 40 at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson hasn't had a lot of reasons to celebrate this season. (Getty Images)
Ive played well here the last couple of years, Mickelson said Wednesday before teeing off in his pro-am. I had a good practice session this morning, and I think its starting to come around. But the first three weeks obviously were not what I wanted. This is a great place to get it turned around.
 
Mickelson hasnt been able to pinpoint the problem, but he cant ignore the shots that stray out-of-bounds, or making bogeys on the par 5s. His goal for the week is to get the misses back under control.
 
Is he worried?
 
I dont think worrying is the word, Mickelson said. I think about it a lot, trying to figure out what exactly is going on. Right now, its just been a little rusty and I havent played the way I would like. It doesnt feel as far off as the scores are indicating, so I feel like if I can just get a little thing here and there, and the misses can come back down into play, Ill be OK.
 
The Northern Trust Open again has a strong field'not quite as strong as last year, when it had more players in the top 15 of the world ranking than any event behind the four majors, three World Golf Championships and The Players Championship.
 
Mickelson is among five of the top 10 at Riviera, which has an international feel for the first time this year on the PGA Tour.
 
Part of that is because the Accenture Match Play in next week in Arizona, so several European Tour players are making their U.S. debut, from Soren Hansen and Graeme McDowell to Jeev Milkha Singh and Oliver Wilson.
 
But the out-of-towner making the biggest buzz is 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa.
 
Hello, America, the Japanese sensation said when introducing himself in English during his press conference.
 
Ishikawa made history at age 15 when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup on the Japan Golf Tour while a freshman in high school. That made him the youngest winner on a tour recognized by the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
He won again last year in his first full year as a pro, finishing fifth on the Japanese money list.
 
No matter how he fares at Riviera, he already is assured of having the largest media following. Tournament organizers received an additional 100 requests for credentials from the Japanese, and the PGA Tour hired an interpreter and assigned an additional media official just to shadow the teenager known in Japan as the Shy Prince.
 
How does one so young cope with so much attention?
 
Ive been asked the same question, if I feel any pressure, Ishikawa said. But actually, I havent thought about pressure itself. At times, I get nervous, but I always try to be positive, rather than negative. More fans come to watch, and Im more happy.
 
Tiger Woods was 16 when he made his PGA Tour debut, but he was still an amateur, still wild and shot 72-75 to miss the cut. Ishikawa was already a pro at that age, and so far up the world ranking that he narrowly missed qualifying for the Match Play.
 
All of this is difficult for someone like Hunter Mahan to grasp.
 
I was 17 and played Travelers Championship in Hartford and just missed the cut by one, he said. But to be a pro, Ive got no chance at that? I wouldnt know what to do. I would probably have to call my mom and go, What do I do? I want to eat, what do I do? I wasnt mature enough to handle it. But Im sure he is.
 
The other special guest at Riviera is Vincent Johnson, an Oregon State graduate who received the first Charlie Sifford Exemption for players who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.
 
That will make it two tournaments in the last three weeks with a player of African-American heritage, and Woods hasnt even played this year as he recovers from knee surgery.
 
Its just been a little surreal, this whole thing, Johnson said. Finding out that I was just a candidate, I was really honored because of what Mr. Sifford stands for. And to receive it things like this dont happen to me.
 
Ishikawa is used to this, and Johnson figured that out during a practice round Tuesday. After walking off the green, the first thing he noticed behind him was a group of 50 photographers and a kid in bright yellow pants.
 
Now I know how Tiger feels, Johnson said. It was good that it was behind me. But Im sure at this point, hes oblivious to it.
 
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    LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

    The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

    The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

    The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

    The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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    Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

    An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

    It was too much “socializing.”

    “I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

    Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

    “Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

    Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

    His plan for doing that?

    “Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

    Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

    McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

    Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

    So much for easing into the new year.

    So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

    McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

    “It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

    McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

    If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

    After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

    “It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

    McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

    It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

    “When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

    A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

    A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

    Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

    To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

    Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

    McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

    “I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

    A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

    “I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

    A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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    Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

    SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

    The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

    Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

    Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

    ''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

    The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

    ''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

    Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

    ''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

    Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

    He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

    Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

    Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

    He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

    Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.