Mickelson a Man of Mystery On and Off the Course

By Associated PressSeptember 4, 2007, 4:00 pm
LEMONT, Ill. -- Phil Mickelson can be impulsive and unpredictable, reckless and rash, but always a topic of conversation. He is capable of making people turn their heads one minute and shake their heads the next.
 
He's like that on the golf course, too.
 
Mickelson left everyone scratching their heads during an 18-hour mystery tour in which he beat Tiger Woods in a riveting battle outside Boston; used a national television interview to air his complaints about PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem; showed up in Chicago for a corporate outing; and withdrew from the BMW Championship by saying he wasn't trying to send a message.
 
'This decision was not an easy one to make,' Mickelson said in a statement.
 
It was even tougher to interpret.
 
Mickelson had no intention of playing a third straight week in the PGA TOUR Playoffs even before he teed it up Friday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, with Woods and Vijay Singh at his side.
 
Perhaps one reason was his paltry record at Cog Hill, where he has never cracked the top 25 in 10 starts. Maybe he was starting to feel fatigued, knowing that a full schedule through the Presidents Cup would mean seven tournaments in nine weeks. Or he could have wanted to join Woods and Ernie Els by skipping one playoff event.
 
All of those reasons would have been acceptable.
 
Anyone who thinks this FedExCup finale isn't working because one player stays home hasn't been paying attention. These 'playoffs' are bringing together a great collection of players and producing exciting golf. Through two weeks, there is no denying that.
 
No one remembers that Woods skipped The Barclays. No one knew Els was missing last week at the Deutsche Bank. And the BMW Championship will get by just fine without Mickelson.
 
For some reason, though, Mickelson wanted to make it personal.
 
His two-shot victory while playing with Woods in the final round at the TPC Boston gave him a platform to celebrate his biggest victory this side of a major, and he elected to turn that into a soap box.
 
Jimmy Roberts of NBC Sports, aware of the rumors that Mickelson might miss Chicago, asked him if would play.
 
'I'm really torn, because I feel like there's an obligation for me to play,' Mickelson said. 'I'd be paired with Tiger again. I think it would be really great for the game and the tour and the FedExCup. Another part of me is really frustrated because for the past year, I've been asking the commissioner to do a couple of things, and I told him I would play the last four events, and he has not done that.
 
'So I'm kind of torn.'
 
On one hand, he was quick to finger Finchem as the villain. But after griping that Finchem didn't live up to his end of the bargain, Mickelson left everyone guessing what kind of deal they had -- if they had one at all.
 
When asked to elaborate, Mickelson went into 'Family Affair' mode by mentioning he has a lot going on, from taking the kids to their first day of school Wednesday to going to their soccer games. In subsequent interviews, the closest he came to explaining his beef was when he said his frustration stemmed from 'asking for a couple of things in the FedExCup that weren't done.'
 
Finchem did not respond. The TOUR released a statement Tuesday saying it was disappointed Mickelson would not be at Cog Hill, but it was looking forward to another exciting chapter in the playoffs.
 
Lefty once was known as the guy who was 0-for-42 in the majors until winning the Masters. In his eyes, he's probably 0-for-20 when he goes to Finchem with a suggestion. Maybe that makes him the greatest player to never get his way on the PGA TOUR.
 
The suggestions range from simple to complex.
 
Mickelson doesn't like that the $10 million payoff for the FedExCup champion is deferred -- and he's not alone on that point. He has argued that the TOUR should designate 20 tournaments a year in which the top players must compete, and he has never been a big fan of being required to play in pro-ams. He doesn't believe the TOUR should subsidize the purses at events opposite the World Golf Championships.
 
Which issue became the trigger, only Mickelson knows. The surprise was the shot across the bow, especially considering how guarded Mickelson is when the lights come on.
 
For a guy who fiercely protects a polished image, Mickelson risked that by taking a sucker punch at Finchem on national TV.
 
His statement Tuesday didn't help, particularly when he said that withdrawing from Chicago 'in no way is meant as disrespectful to the TOUR or 'sending a message' to anyone.'
 
Mickelson said he's looking for balance, and that his family has sacrificed a lot this year because it's been a very difficult schedule. But this is the same guy who said at the PGA Championship last month that he was excited for the FedExCup because of all the time he lost this summer with a wrist injury.
 
It probably didn't help that when Mickelson announced he was pulling out of the BMW Championship, he was a half-hour away at Medinah Country Club playing in a corporate outing. The outing was planned long ago, but it didn't look good.
 
Tournament director Jon Kaczkowski was asked how he felt about Mickelson being at Medinah and going home without stopping at Cog Hill. Although his answer was polite, it spoke volumes.
 
'It's hard for me to interpret some of his thoughts,' he said.
 
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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.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.