The curious case of Mickelson's overnight WD

By Jason SobelSeptember 6, 2014, 2:32 pm

Call me old school, but I prefer mid-tournament withdrawals to occur when a player comes down with a slight case of pre-round broken leg. Or maybe when – apologies for the mental image - he can’t keep any food down on the course. Or even in the rare circumstance when he’s going to become a father and chooses being in the delivery room over 18 holes.

Hey, that’s part of the allure of being a professional golfer – as an independent contractor, you don’t need to explain to a general manager or coach why you can’t play on a given day. In fact, you don’t need any explanation at all. Players can withdraw mid-tournament without reason and without any penalty, which prompted one of their brethren to refer to a recent spate of early exits as an “epidemic” just a few months ago.

All of which leads us to Phil Mickelson, who WD’d from the BMW Championship in the wee hours of Saturday morning based on this theory: He needs time to prepare for the Ryder Cup.

“Without a chance to contend at the Tour Championship,” he said in a statement, “the most important thing for me now is to prepare for the Ryder Cup.”

The first issue here is that Mickelson stole away from Cherry Hills like a thief in the night, leaving a tournament he had constantly maintained he was excited about while mired in a share of 63rd place in the 69-man field.

On the scale of poor form, this ranks somewhere between societal faux pas and unlawful surrender. Over the past two decades, no player has better understood the business of building a brand and protecting an image. By fleeing like the old Baltimore Colts in their Mayflower trucks (do they make private jets, too?), Mickelson undoubtedly knows he triple-bogeyed this latest public relations test.


Mell: Fatigued Mickelson ends season with PR blunder

BMW Championship: Articles, videos and photos


The bigger issue is that it contrasts everything we’ve always known about the unsinkable lefthander. This is a guy who rarely misses a Shell Houston Open or FedEx St. Jude Classic or Scottish Open, because he prefers to prepare for big events by being in the heat of competition.

“The more I play, the sharper I get and usually the second or third tournament is when I play my best,” he explained last year. “That’s why I like to have a tournament before a major, because a major’s penalty for a miss is so severe you’ve got to be sharp on each shot right from the gate.”

The Ryder Cup will begin exactly three weeks after Mickelson’s final competitive round of the season, which means his WD is the antithesis of his usual preparation. It also comes across as disingenuous based on recent comments.

He’s been uncharacteristically indecisive in recent weeks. After missing the secondary cut at The Barclays, he insisted, “I’m barely keeping my sanity, I’m so frustrated.” Days later, before the Deutsche Bank Championship, he maintained, “I don’t have high expectations. My game will be a crapshoot.” And yet, after finishing T-45 there, he claimed, “I haven’t driven the ball this well in a long time and my putter felt great.”

Yes, he can turn his game on in a hurry, which is why it’s puzzling that he would forgo his final 36 holes of the season in favor of preparing for an event three weeks away.

Unless it isn’t, really.

Mickelson has never been shy about using his actions to help his agenda. He was never happy about four straight weeks of FedEx Cup playoff events, saying recently, “I want to do everything I can to support the PGA Tour … But I don’t ever play four weeks in a row, outside of weeks that I’m staying at my house. To play four in a row is very difficult for me.”

Maybe he’s using his status as a pulpit to get this point across. Maybe he really feels like two more days at home will leave him better prepared for the Ryder Cup. Maybe he’s just burnt out on golf right now and needs to get away from it. Maybe there are other factors at play that he simply didn’t want to make public. For a man who has dealt with his own health issues as well as those of close family members, we can only hope he isn’t masking any further problems in that area.

We can only take him on his word, though, and he contested that he needed to be fresh for the Ryder Cup. For a player who has spent a career doing and saying the right thing so often, one who whips galleries into a frenzy based on his aggressive nature, this maneuver feels like a risk-reward that wasn’t worth the risk.

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

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."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

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.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

Getty Images

Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

Getty Images

Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."