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.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."