Mickelsons Great Year Ending on Sour Note

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2004, 4:00 pm
Phil Mickelson has a green jacket in his closet to remind him this has been a great year.
It just might not seem that way right now.
In the ultimate case of 'what have you done for me lately,' Mickelson has gone from Masters champion to Ryder Cup renegade.
He certainly wasn't the goat at Oakland Hills; for once, that was a team effort. But most of the criticism probably will fall into his lap for a series of dubious decisions that were magnified by poor play.
First, he changed equipment companies a week before the Ryder Cup. Then he didn't play on the tournament course the final two days before the matches.
All that would have been overlooked except for his performance. Mickelson got benched Saturday morning. He lost his singles match with what NBC analyst Johnny Miller called a 'nut shot.' And his 1-3 mark at Oakland Hills was the first time in five Ryder Cups that Lefty had a losing record.
Asked to explain what went wrong for the Americans, one can only hope Mickelson wasn't serious when he said that playing in the Ryder Cup was a 'career-defining moment for us.'
If that's the case, Mickelson's defining moment would be that knockdown 9-iron he tried to bounce onto the 16th green along the water at Oakland Hills, not the 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Augusta National. He would be remembered as the guy who skipped two days of team practice, not the one who so brilliantly mapped out a strategy at the majors that he came within five shots of winning all four.
The next thing Mickelson said Sunday night was more accurate.
'When we get here, we are under constant ridicule and scrutiny over our play, and not coming together as a team, and all of this stuff that we know to be false,' he said.
Mickelson was begging for scrutiny. Given the events leading up to the Ryder Cup, it's a wonder he didn't replace the small American flag on the back of his team uniform with a bulls-eye.
He is not the first player to change equipment before the Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods caused a stir when he switched to Nike irons a week before the '02 Ryder Cup at The Belfry. But then he won the World Golf Championship that week in Ireland by not making a bogey until the 72nd hole.
Mickelson switched to the Callaway driver, fairway metals and golf ball at the Canadian Open and tied for 57th with his highest-score of the year (291) and fewest number of birdies (11).
Not surprisingly, Mickelson was pounded with questions about his new tools during the Ryder Cup. It was easy to blame his play on the equipment change, even though he was coming off back-to-back bad weeks on tour.
Besides, it's not as if that was the first time he has missed a fairway by 40 yards.
And he was using Woods' golf ball when Mickelson came up short on the 11th green and spun back down the hill into the fairway, a pivotal point in their alternate-shot match Friday afternoon.
The equipment issue became such a flash point that David Toms rose to his defense after the only point Mickelson contributed all week.
'Hold on, hold on,' Toms said, the closest he has ever come to giving a lecture. 'He was my partner today. All I can tell you is I think he hit every fairway with that new equipment. He was not hitting irons off the tee. He was hitting Callaway drivers, 4-woods, 3-woods. And he played damn good.'
Mickelson repeated he made the right decision.
'Nobody else believes it, but I can live with that,' he said. 'If I went the other way and played with something that everybody else thought was right but I didn't -- that I can't live with.'
As for his practice habits, that fell in line with captain Hal Sutton's philosophy. He wanted his guys to worry about their own game and let that spill over into the results everyone expects.
Mickelson stuck to his routine. He spent nearly eight hours playing 18 holes Monday when Oakland Hills was closed to the public, hitting shots from every imaginable spot around the green, filling his yardage book with notes.
He rarely plays the course in the days leading up to a major - remember his visit to the Buffalo Bills' training camp at the PGA Championship last year? But no one could think of a time when a player didn't practice with his team. And for Mickelson to practice on the adjacent North course at Oakland Hills on Thursday only put him under greater scrutiny.
If he delivered, it probably would be a moot point.
But he didn't, and that left Mickelson open to more second-guessing than Sutton.
Then again, that's been the story of Mickelson's career.
What most people see as a bad decision, Mickelson sees as poor execution.
Given the intensity of the Ryder Cup, this might have been a little of both.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.

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“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”

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McIlroy encouraged by T-20: 'Didn’t quite reflect how I played'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:23 am

LOS ANGELES – Rory McIlroy sees plenty of reasons to smile despite the fact that the first half of his 2018 Masters prep has officially wrapped without lifting a trophy.

After an injury-plagued campaign last year, McIlroy set out an ambitious schedule that called for eight worldwide starts before heading down Magnolia Lane. He started off with a pair of near-misses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, then followed last week’s missed cut at Pebble Beach with a T-20 finish at the Genesis Open.

McIlroy birdied his final two holes to close with a 3-under 68 at Riviera Country Club, his lowest score of the week. He explained that a “destructive” tee shot on the 12th hole Saturday led to a double bogey and stunted any potential momentum, but he remained encouraged after closing the week on a high note.

“I feel like the position that I finished didn’t quite reflect how I played,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I played better than finishing whatever it is, 25th or whatever it’s going to be. I feel good about my game, just need to sharpen up a couple little areas here and there. But for the most part it’s been OK.”

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McIlroy will now head across the country to tee it up in the Honda Classic, where he reached world No. 1 for the first time with a win in 2012 and also lost in a playoff in 2014. Although he continued to tinker with his putter this week following a mediocre effort on the greens at Pebble Beach, he believes that some of his putting woes may be solved simply by swapping out tricky poa annua surfaces for more familiar Bermuda greens.

“It was nice to play sort of early the last couple days, the greens didn’t get too crusty or too bumpy. I felt like even coming down the last few holes there, they were still good surfaces,” McIlroy said. “Nice to get back onto Bermuda and surfaces being a little truer than what we’ve experienced the last couple weeks.”

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Opinions split on lengthening No. 5 at Augusta

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:07 am

LOS ANGELES – Few topics spark a diverse range of player opinions quite like the whisper of changes to Augusta National Golf Club, and the latest proposed alteration of the par-4 fifth hole is no exception.

According to an Augusta Chronicle report, the club has submitted preliminary plans that would call for the construction of a new tee later this year behind what currently is Old Berckmans Road. The new tee could reportedly lengthen the hole by 20-30 yards and would alleviate congestion with the adjacent fourth green. It would also signal the first club-enacted changes to the famed layout since 2006.

Phil Mickelson has three green jackets hanging in his closet, and he sees no problem with adding teeth to a hole that already measures 455 yards on the scorecard.

“I’m a big fan of making the hard holes harder and the easy holes easier,” Mickelson said Sunday at the Genesis Open. “So making No. 5 harder, which is perennially a difficult par, or should be one of the harder par-4s out there, I’m a big fan of. What I’m not a fan of is taking a hole like 7 and making it the second-toughest par on the golf course. I think that’s a mistake. I think making 5 more difficult is not.”

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Jordan Spieth believes the proposed changes would force driver into players’ hands on what he described as a “3-wood hole” given the pitch of the fairway, and added that firm and fast conditions could potentially push a longer fifth hole to the brink of playability.

“It would make an already very difficult hole even harder,” Spieth said. “If the greens are firm and fast, then it’s a pretty dicey hole given how severe that green is. But when you can still land a mid-iron on and stop it on the back of that green, then it makes sense. So I think they’d probably do a mix of the tees.”

While former champs Mickelson and Spieth welcome the promise of a more difficult Masters test, Graeme McDowell simply shook his head and grinned before explaining that his love of Augusta National remains unrequited after nine career Masters appearances.

“That green, it’s just not a 5-iron green. I’m sort of hitting between 5- and 7-iron into there as it is,” McDowell said. “It’s a tough golf course, and (No.) 5 is one of the toughest holes on the course. Certainly doesn’t need any lengthening for my money.”

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Durant tops Stricker, others to win Chubb Classic

By Associated PressFebruary 19, 2018, 12:19 am

NAPLES, Fla. - Joe Durant birdied the final two holes - and got some help from Steve Stricker - to win the PGA Tour Champions' Chubb Classic.

Durant shot a 5-under 67 on Sunday for a four-stroke victory over Stricker, David Toms, Lee Janzen, Billy Mayfair and Tim Petrovic.

''The stick-to-itiveness and the intestinal fortitude,'' Durant said when asked what he most proud about. ''I was nervous starting out, and I missed short putts early, but I kept grinding, kept telling myself that if I could just steady myself, hit some quality shots, the putts would start to go.''

Tied with Durant with two holes left, Stricker dropped a stroke back when Durant birdied the par-5 17th. On the par-4 18th, Stricker hit into the water and made a double bogey for a three-shot swing.

''Not my favorite pin in the world on the right side and the right-to-left wind, and I tried to hold it off and pushed it a little bit,'' Stricker said. ''He hit a great shot in there, forced me to try to go right straight at it, and I didn't pull it off.''

The 53-year-old Durant closed with a 15-footer to finish at 19-under 197 on TwinEagles' Talon course. He was safely on the 18th green when Stricker - needing birdie to tie - hit into the water.

''One of those situations where I was fortunate that I hit fist, knocked it onto the green,'' Durant said. ''So, it might have put a couple thoughts in his head anyway.''

Durant earned $240,000 for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour after winning four PGA Tour titles.

''Joe hit some great shots when he had to, put the pressure on all of us when it mattered most,'' Stricker said. ''He played great.''

The 50-year-old Stricker shot 70. He made his first start of the year on the senior tour after playing six tournaments last year - a runner-up finish in his debut along with three third-places ties.

''The par 5s killed me today,'' Stricker said. ''I eagled the first one, and then I was in great position on every other one and walked away with pars on all of them. That was really the difference.''

Durant eagled the par-5 13th - ''I felt like if I could make the 3 there, I had a shot,'' he said - and birdied the par-4 14th to take the lead at 18 under. He dropped into a tie with a bogey on the par-3 16th and Stricker's birdie on the hole.

''I was just so nervous today, and it showed on the first few holes,'' Durant said. ''I missed some short putts. My goal was to just hang in there. If you can stay around it, you never know what's going to happen the last three or four holes, and that's all I really tried to do.''

Mayfair and Petrovic shot 64, Toms had a 65, and Janzen a 68.

''Didn't really get anything going until the end of the round today,'' Toms said. ''I'm playing solid, just keep putting myself in position, maybe one day I'll get that hot round on Sunday.''

Scott McCarron was 14 under after a 68.

John Daly had a hole-in-one in a 67 to get to 13 under. He used an 8-iron on the 16th for the ace.

First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez was ninth at 12 under after a 72.