Phil Has All the Looks of an Open Winner
But you might as well shelve the old notion of Flailin Phil now. He officially erased it with a Friday performance that was nothing short of phenomenal. He shot a 66 on a morning when he never was in trouble. Patiently he met each one of the 18 different challenges, and when it was all over, he toted it up and there it was ' a 66.
Mickelson wont confess that he was a loose cannon in years gone past. I dont know ' my credentials to judge such things are miniscule when compared to his. Other professional golfers have opined the same thing, however ' that Phil Mickelson hurt himself by never seeing a pin he didnt like.
Those people today have a decidedly different opinion.
Mickelson always has had awesome talent. But hes 34 years old now, been a pro for 13 years, and his ideas of the best way to jockey the ball into the hole have undoubtedly begun to change. He was almost cursed by being able to do so many things with the ball, and he too often tried to use his numerous skills instead of just concentrating on four or five things. Not surprising, he could always be counted on to have two or three holes when the myriad shots would fail, leaving him with just enough heartbreak to be fatal.
But this year has been different. He started the season by finishing in the top 10 in seven of his first eight tournaments. Then came the Masters on a course that is relatively open, and he won his first major with a brilliant back-nine 31 Sunday. Old buzzards started scratching their heads and nodding. It looked as if ' at least for that tournament ' that hed learned something about playing intelligently.
And now ' this. For 36 holes he has been the ultimate chess player as he teases, cajoles and then whips Shinnecock. He stands 6 under par and has hit 29 of 36 greens. He looks in total control, both of himself and his golf game. On Thursday that computed to a 2-under total of 68, and Phil gladly accepted that. On Friday it was 66, and again he accepted it with thanks.
This is the way you win U.S. Opens. First, it takes amazing talent. But secondly, you must be in complete control of your emotions. The over-the-head flop shot is truly unbelievable to all who have been privileged to see it. But a 15-foot two-putt, Mickelson is learning, is much more effective. And that is exactly what he has been doing in this tournament ' putting himself in position to make the birdie, but guaranteeing that he will do no worse than par. He has made only one bogey in 36 holes, by the way.
Mickelsons preparation for the majors now includes a lot more on-course preparation than before. Though he played at Westchester last week, he has gotten plenty of play time at Shinnecock. Some pros feel they play their best with just a round or two at the site under their belt. Phil, though, is solidly in the other camp.
I think you are going to perform the way you prepare, he said before the second round. And I think Ive put a lot of work and preparation for this event, coming here early, spending three days, four or five rounds and really understanding the golf course.
So then when I got here, I wasnt surprised by any situation where my ball ended up ' I knew if it was OK to be there or not. And its made for a good start.
Mickelson sounds like he has been winning these things for years. You cant attack the course, per se, because the pins are in such spots because half (the greens) are in X ' bogey at best, he was saying. And the other side, you can play from but its hard to get it four or five feet.
Above all, Phil has been very patient in just keeping the ball in the fairway and thus in play, and he has done that with 3-woods as well as drivers. Above all, he has done an excellent job of keeping the ball below the hole where his putts have not been blindingly quick. On the par-5 16th, for example, he hit the greenside bunker in two big whacks. From the bunker, through, he blasted it beautifully up to three feet.
However, it wasnt just three feet. Some places above that hole, three feet would be an extremely delicate touch as you tried to just nudge it in the hole. But Mickelson put it BELOW the cup where he could put a good stroke on it.
And meanwhile, Mickelson is still powering the ball 295 yards off the tee on the two measuring holes. This is just through the first two days, fair enough, but if he continues to muscle the ball when the opportunity presents itself, then throttles back the majority of the holes, and he will most assuredly by right around the lead come Sunday night.
Phil, in fact, just might agree that he has changed a little.
It certainly feels a lot better, he said. Its felt really good this year.
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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.