Dont Take Your Eyes Off Phil

By Brian HewittApril 4, 2007, 4:00 pm
Tiger Woods is the player you have to watch this week at Augusta National where he will attempt to win his fifth Masters Tournament and third straight major championship. But Phil Mickelson will be the player you wont be able to take your eyes off of.
 
To be sure, Mickelson can be as unconventional and unorthodox as the previous sentence of this column'it ended with two prepositions. To be double sure, Mickelson is, after all, a lefty.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson works on his shorts game Tuesday. (WireImage)
And he will have two drivers in his bag when his attempted defense of this title begins Thursday morning. One of them will have a square shaped head. Similarly, he put two drivers into play last year at Augusta where his final-round 69 held off Tim Clark by two shots for Mickelsons second Masters triumph in three years.
 
When I need distance, I use the square one, Mickelson explained this week. And when I try to hit little low shots or work it around the trees on 10 or 13, Ill use the regular-shaped driver.
 
Mickelson has been drilling down on this years Masters ever since his arrival at the golf course last Thursday. By comparison, Woods didnt get to Augusta National until Sunday and that was the earliest ever for him. Typically at major championships, Mickelson shows up hours before his tee time and spends an inordinate amount of time on the putting green.
 
Most players will tell you that major championships are mental endurance contests; that they only have so much mental gas in their tanks for a 72-hole event. And they will shake their heads at the way Mickelson goes about his business at the big stages.
 
Ive been out here a little bit practicing, Mickelson allowed Tuesday. Which was like Hillary Clinton saying she had been doing a little campaigning.
 
This is the same Phil Mickelson who told us he was an idiot after ruining what was supposed to be a perfectly good and unspoiled walk up the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last June. Several bad decisions later he wound up with double-bogey when a simple par would have won the championship.
 
He is not an idiot. He is a bright guy with a high golf intelligence quota. But he is flawed in at least two ways that Woods is not and both involve decision making: Mickelson is prone to being stubborn at the wrong times. And he is subject to being a victim of his own immense talent and vivid imagination.
 
In short, even though he can navigate his way around the worlds hardest golf courses in ways that would make a rear admiral proud, he doesnt always play the percentages.
 
And now it is time to find out if the collateral emotional fallout from Winged Foot has left permanent mental scars. Mickelson followed Winged Foot with indifferent golf the remainder of 2006. Notably uninspired was his play at the Open Championship, the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.
 
Ive had to overcome tough losses in the past, he maintains. None, however, of the magnitude of Winged Foot.
 
Now Mickelson is back at a place where, it appears, he was born to succeed. Mickelsons record in the last eight Masters shows eight straight top-10s. Yes, he won earlier this year at the AT&T National Pro-Am. But Mickelson wont have earned a full clean bill of health from Winged Foot until he plays well at Augusta.
 
That having been said, it will be surprising to me if Mickelson doesnt finish in the top 5 this week and not surprising at all if he wins his third Masters.
 
Unlike the opportunistic Nick Faldo who played in 23 Masters with only three top-10s, Mickelson is money in the bank when he gets down among the dogwoods and azaleas. Faldo won all three times he got close and thats all credit to him. Mickelson is always close.
 
Im not really thinking about the U.S. Open as much as Im trying to defend my Masters championship, Mickelson said bravely in his pre-tournament press conference.
 
By early Sunday evening we will know for sure whether this was just so much whistling past the golf graveyard or whether Mickelson really has put Winged Foot behind him. Meanwhile, we will be watching his every step.
 
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.