After Further Review: Phil in fine form for U.S. Open

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. In this edition of After Further Review, our writers weigh in on Phil Mickelson's chances at the U.S. Open, Inbee Park's major run and the Langer-Montgomerie rivalry on the Champions Tour.

Phil Mickelson set himself up for even more U.S. Open heartbreak Sunday with a closing 65 in Memphis. Sporadic at best over the past two years, Lefty has now hit his stride with three top-5s in his last five starts.

Now comes Chambers Bay, a links-style course that Mickelson described as “special.” His wildness off the tee, his sagging short game and his propensity for big numbers give you pause, but this is Phil’s last best chance to win an Open.

He’s one of the few players with a positive mindset heading into Chambers Bay, and his imagination will give him a massive advantage at a place with so many humps, hollows and backboards. Dismiss Phil at your own risk. – Ryan Lavner

Everyone, it seems, knows Jack Nicklaus has won more major championships than anyone in the history of the men’s game.

But do you know who holds the record for winning the most women’s majors? Devoted fans of the women’s game know it’s Patty Berg – she won 15 – but the record isn’t held in the same regard as Nicklaus’ mark.

Maybe that’s because women’s majors don’t have the history of the men’s majors. Women’s majors have come and gone. The Women’s British Open didn’t get its start until 1976 and wasn’t considered an LPGA major until 2001. There was a time in the ‘70s when there were only two women’s majors.

Berg’s record seems safe for a while, but with the LPGA now playing five majors a year, her record might be something talked about more in the women’s game, especially if Inbee Park stays on this tear. Park’s victory Sunday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was her sixth major title overall and her fifth in the last 12 majors. – Randall Mell

While the PGA Tour continues to sort out a new top rivalry (Rory-Rickie? Rory-Jordan? Tiger-himself?), the Champions Tour has two clear frontrunners.

Bernhard Langer won his fifth Champions Tour major Sunday, while Colin Montgomerie turned in a third-place finish just hours after a trip to the hospital.

Monty and Langer have now combined to win each of the last six of the last seven senior majors, with three apiece. Though competitive balance may be good in the search for new young stars to lead the game forward, the Champions Tour was created so that the notable names of the past could continue to entertain fans and reign supreme.

With any luck, we’ll get more of these two going head to head. It’s a rivalry that’s good for the over-50 game. – Nick Menta

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

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.