Phil Mickelson poised for yet another run at Tiger

By Doug FergusonSeptember 30, 2009, 1:54 am

PGA Tour (75x100)ORLANDO, Fla. – Even after eight decades of golf, Arnold Palmer is vulnerable to a few surprises.

In this case, both occurred on the same day.

He watched the final round of the Tour Championship, where Tiger Woods started two shots out of the lead and didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole. By then, Phil Mickelson blew past everyone and won by three shots.

“I was a little surprised at Tiger,” Palmer said Tuesday at his Bay Hill Club. “If you just watch him like I do – and I’ve watched him since he was a little guy – just the way he walks, the way he holds himself, it amazed me he didn’t win. That was my reaction.”

And then came a bigger surprise.

Did he ever imagine seeing two fierce rivals posing on the 18th green while holding their own trophy?

Palmer threw his head back and laughed.

“No, but that’s good,” he said. “I did think about that. I just didn’t put it that context.”

Sunday at East Lake presented a bizarre scene, for sure, when Mickelson rallied to win the Tour Championship and Woods did enough on the back nine to capture the FedEx Cup. The PGA Tour could not have asked for a better finish to its FedEx Cup. Golf is at its most interesting when Woods and Mickelson are on top of their games.

The question is how long this will last.

The next time Woods and Mickelson play against each other – assuming they aren’t partners in the Presidents Cup – is scheduled to be the HSBC Championship in Shanghai the first week of November.

The better barometer will be in 2010.

The way he won and the player he beat must have made Mickelson wish that next year started next week. He had been hitting the ball well enough to contend just about every week. His driving – higher launch, less spin, straighter than ever – was superb at East Lake.

The problem was his putting, which was so bad that Mickelson asked his caddie for suggestions. Jim “Bones” MacKay jumped at the chance to help, and spent the Monday after the BMW Championship searching for Dave Stockton’s phone number.

“Bones came up with the idea,” Mickelson said. “I said, ‘Bones, for two years I’ve been kind of floundering here, not having the right direction. I want you to think about it.’ He came back the next day and he said, ‘I think you should call Dave Stockton.”’

Mickelson and Stockton hooked up in San Diego, and Stockton encouraged him to return to his putting style of old – a forward press with his hands, which Mickelson had been doing since he was a kid. The move felt natural, and the results were astounding. He one-putted 36 times over 72 holes at East Lake.

“I feel like I have some direction now on where I want to go with my putter,” Mickelson said. “I felt like I’ve been hitting it this well for quite some time since working with Butch (Harmon), and yet I have not had the results. To be able to put it all together from tee-to-green, as well as on the green, feels great.”

He looked so good that NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller suggested Mickelson could win PGA Tour player of the year.

Mickelson is talented enough to do that.

So, too, is the guy he has been trying to chase for the better part of a dozen years.

Even a player of Mickelson’s caliber – 37 career victories on the PGA Tour and three majors – still needs more than one tournament to show that he is up to the challenge. Because what the last decade has shown is that when Mickelson appears ready to challenge, Woods always seems to have an answer.

Go back to 1998.

One year after Woods’ established himself at No. 1 with a 12-shot win at the Masters among his four victories, Mickelson won the season-opening Mercedes Championship with a strong statement. After hearing the roar for Woods’ eagle during a Sunday charge, Mickelson fired off four birdies over the next five holes and went on to win at La Costa.

He didn’t win again for seven months. He didn’t win a major for six more years.

Some other examples:

– Mickelson won consecutive events on the West Coast in 2005 and was atop the leaderboard for 10 consecutive rounds in stroke play until Woods beat him in a duel at Doral. Mickelson didn’t win again until the PGA Championship five months later.

– Mickelson was one hole away from joining Woods and Ben Hogan as the only players to win three straight majors in the modern era until he took double bogey on the 18th hole at Winged Foot and tied for second in the 2006 U.S. Open. He didn’t seriously contend in another major for two years.

– Playing with Woods for third time in four days, Mickelson buried him on the front nine of the TPC Boston and shot 66 for a two-shot victory at the 2007 Deutsche Bank Championship. That gave Mickelson the lead in the FedEx Cup standings, but he took the next week off. Woods answered by winning the final two playoff events and the FedEx Cup.

So what will this Tour Championship victory over Woods do for Mickelson?

Lefty turns 40 in June, which could give him an even greater sense of urgency. Then again, Woods has a say in this rivalry, too.

“Certainly, I would love to go at it again with him,” Woods said.

Most everyone would love to see it.

Perhaps the Tour Championship was preview for what could be a special year in 2010.

Or maybe it was a rerun.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”