Rocky Mountain Phil
Mickelson was in his first full year on the PGA Tour when he won The International for the first time in 1993. Then he repeated the victory in 1997. And in 1998 and 2000, he finished runner-up. Phil could almost retire on the money he has taken out of the Colorado coffers alone.
Mickelson was just 23 when he won his first International. One magazine headlined their story 'Bear Apparent,' with the reference to Mister Nicklaus. He was carting off a tournament trophy for the third time already en route to his total of 21 so far. The fact that he is just now in his prime at age 32 is of importance. Were it not for the emergence of one T Woods a few years back, he would undoubtedly have more.
Mickelson, you see, was the one who was constantly compared to Nicklaus when Phil was in his early 20s. Only Nicklaus at the time had won his third tournament at the age Mickelson did. Until Woods burst on the scene in late 1996, Mickelson was supposed to be the one who would challenge Jack's records. Of course Tiger has eclipsed everyone, including Nicklaus, in the race for trophies at a certain age. But his excellence has somewhat hidden the fact that Mickelson has secured more titles than practically anyone of his generation.
In '93, Mickelson made it quick work the final day when he birdied four of the first five holes. He eventually scored 40 points ' this tournament is scored on the Stableford system and you really don't know how you stack up to the under-par system ' and there never was much doubt in whose hands the trophy would wind up.
Afterwards, Mickelson said he was particularly proud of his course management ' and appreciative beyond belief to the comparisons with Nicklaus at similar ages.
'I take that as a compliment,' said Phil, 'but there's only one Jack Nicklaus.'
Mickelson would obliterate the field again in '97 when he tallied 49 points ' 21-under-par in normal parlance. He made two eagles, 21 birdies and just four bogeys the entire tournament. The runner-up, Stuart Appleby, was way back with just 41 points.
In '98, he was runner-up to Vijay Singh during a week when Singh was not to be headed. But in 2000 he finished second to Ernie Els during an event in which he came onrushing the last two days but just didn't have quite enough oomph to get over the hump. He eagled the par-5 17th on the final day Sunday, but that wasn't sufficient to squirm past Els, who had opened with what amounted a 65-63 on Thursday and Friday.
As much as he has done, he is haunted much more by what he hasn't done. The foremost of these is, after 10 years, and though is the second-ranked player on planet earth, he hasn't won a major. He is criticized for being too greedy, too aggressive, not a reliable enough putter, for just about everything except just being unlucky. The same reasons why he won twice at the International and finished runner-up two times, why he has won 21 times, why he has finished second or third in seven major events, is the same reason why he hasn't yet broken through after 10 years of trying. Mickelson is an aggressive player, and he doesn't see any reason to change a highly successful style.
'I thought that maybe to win a major, I needed to play a little bit more conservative style,' said Mickelson at The Players Championship this year. 'But as I have looked back on it, I don't care if I ever win a major. I am not going to play this game without the enjoyment, without the fun that I have right now.
'And I don't believe that is the case. I believe that if I continue to play the style of golf I have been playing and be patient, I will win my share of majors.'
There simply would not be 21 wins upon Phil's mantle, he believes, if he were to play a la Nicklaus ' conservative in style, waiting patiently for others to make mistakes.
'I just don't play my best when I play that way,' said Mickelson. 'I just don't play my best.
'I can't play the way Jack played. He actually told me how he used to prepare for majors and for tournaments. I don't prepare well that way. I tried that and it didn't work for me.
'I found the way I need to prepare for events to get my best performance that week, and I have found that for me to have my lowest scores, I need to fun playing the game. I need to be creative. That's my strength ' creativity.'
That was his strength at The International in '93, that was his strength in '97, and that was his strength in runner-up efforts in '98 and 2000. Mickelson and Denver get along just fine, thank you.
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
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.”
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.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
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.
“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.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.
It came on St. Patrick’s Day.
“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”
Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).
One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.
“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.
Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year. Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”
She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.
That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.
With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.
Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.
Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.
Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?
“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”
Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”
Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”
About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.
Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.
While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.
“You never know,” she said.