Phil Mickelson leads by two at WGC-CA Championship

By Associated PressMarch 13, 2009, 4:00 pm
2007 WGC CA ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. ' The WGC-CA Championship looks like any other big golf tournament held over the last nine months.
 
Phil Mickelson brings some star power. He built a two-shot lead Friday by chipping in for birdie for the third time and smoking a 3-wood from 245 yards around the palm trees and over the water, setting up another birdie.
 
The group chasing him includes two guys who already have won this year ' Nick Watney (Buick Invitational), who shot 67 and was two shots behind; and Kenny Perry (FBR Open), who had a 64 and was another shot back.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is in the driver's seat with 36 holes to play. (Getty Images)
And Tiger Woods was nowhere to be found.
 
Only this time, hes actually playing in the tournament.
 
Mickelson finished strong for the second straight day and put himself in the last group at Doral for the first time in three years. His foil on the Blue Monster typically is Woods, but Lefty will be keeping different company this time.
 
Woods was 10 shots behind.
 
It kind of (stinks), Mickelson said. I hope he comes out tomorrow and plays a great round and makes a move. I would love to get him back from 05. I came close in 05 and got beat, and I would love the opportunity to play head-to-head.
 
Mickelson was at 13-under 131 and will have to settle for Watney, the only player at Doral who has yet to make a bogey.
 
Rory McIlroy, the 19-year-old from Northern Ireland who is trying to become the youngest PGA Tour winner in history, finished with an eagle and a birdie on two dangerous holes for a 66 and was two shots behind. He was tied with Perry, 48, who has three children older than McIlroy.
 
Woods beat Mickelson in an electric final round four years ago at Doral that came down to the last shot. They were paired again in the last group in the third round in 2006, and Woods got the best of him again.
 
This time, however, Woods looks like just another player in the field.
 
He again struggled with his distance control, the frustration growing with every shot too long or too short, leaving him few birdie chances. He made some progress, though ' a 70, one shot better than the day before.
 
But he was at 3-under 141 and in a tie for 35th in the 80-man field at this World Golf Championship. Told that Mickelson was disappointed he could not face Woods, the worlds No. 1 player smiled.
 
Me, too, he said. What am I? Ten back? Thats not a very good spot to be in. Hopefully, tomorrow I can shoot a good round and at least give myself somewhat of a chance going into Sunday.
 
Woods returned from knee surgery two weeks ago in match play, but this is first stroke-play event since he won the U.S. Open last June, and it showed. It was the first time in his 19 starts at a WGC event that he has failed to break 70 the first two rounds.
 
And he has never been this low on the leaderboard at any time, let alone the weekend.
 
I need to play well and I need to have help, and thats the problem when youre so far back, Woods said. Youre not really in control of your destiny being that far back.
 
He didnt have much control of his shots, either.
 
The worst of it came on the par-5 10th, when he was in the middle of the fairway with a 3-iron in his hand. Feeling it should have been a 4-iron, Woods blocked it into the bunker. He blasted out long and onto the fringe, caught the lip with his birdie putt, then missed his 3-foot putt for par. It was his first bogey on a par 5 at Doral since the 12th hole in the second round in 2005.
 
Mickelson also made bogey on a par 5 at No. 12 when he hooked his first tee shot out of play. But he escaped with a bogey, and that was the only big blunder of the round. He ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch starting on the 14th hole ' the exception was a 4-foot birdie he missed at No. 16 ' and seized control at the end of his round.
 
First, he chipped in for birdie from about 20 feet short of the seventh green. Then came his best swing of the day, carving a 3-wood around the palms, over the water and into a slight breeze from 245 yards into 15 feet on the par-5 eighth. He two-putted for birdie.
 
That gave him a cushion going into the weekend, but Mickelson has been around long enough to not let that excite him.
 
Theres going to be low scores out there, and Im going to have to keep pace, he said. But fortunately, Im playing well enough, and believe I can do it.
 
Watney last month won at Torrey Pines with two birdies on the final three holes, his second career victory. About the only thing he has in common with Mickelson is a swing coach ' Butch Harmon ' but he has played a half-dozen times with Mickelson.
 
I definitely like the pairing, Watney said. Hes one of the best players of our generation, and Im looking forward to what I can learn and see if I can hang with him for a couple of days.
 
A dozen more players were within five shots of the lead, coming from all over the world.
 
Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand, who first struck a golf ball with a club he fashioned from a bamboo stick and bicycle tires, was atop the leaderboard until a triple bogey on the 18th hole. He shot 70 and was at 9-under 135 with Camilo Villegas and Rod Pampling.
 
I think we all as players cannot wait for Tiger to get back on top of his game and hopefully be able to keep pace with him, Mickelson said. Not that weve been able to do it in the past, but we are hoping to have those opportunities to go head-to-head.
 
For now, Mickelson will have to carry on without him.
 
Related Links:
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.