Phil hopes for grueling test in seeking Grand Slam

By Ryan LavnerJune 15, 2016, 9:10 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – No player has been tempted, teased and tortured at the U.S. Open more than Phil Mickelson. Over the past 25 years, he’s racked up a record six runners-up just about every way imaginable – mis-clubs, missed fairways, missed putts – and the Open oh-fer is all that’s kept him from joining the all-time greats who have completed the career Grand Slam.

And so it was curious to hear Mickelson on Wednesday say that he wants Oakmont – by many accounts, the most difficult course in the United States – to cross the line between brutal and unplayable, as if he were welcoming even more torment.

“I feel like I’ve learned how to play that style of golf,” he said.

Mickelson has been bucking trends his entire career, of course. The usual recipe for success in the U.S. Open is to find the fairway, play the high-percentage shot into the green, take your medicine when out of position and hole 10-footers. There are many enviable aspects of Mickelson’s game, but frankly, that isn’t his style. He’s never been particularly accurate off the tee. He’s prone to taking unnecessary risks. His putter occasionally betrays him in big moments. And yet his high-wire act has produced 42 wins, including five majors, and he’s been close, agonizingly close, to breaking through at the major he covets most.

“When that line is on the edge or crossed,” he said, “I feel like I have one of my better chances to come out on top.”

Lefty doesn’t have fond memories of Oakmont. In the weeks leading up to the 2007 Open, he took too many hacks out of the thick, gnarly rough and injured his left wrist. By the time the Open rolled around, he had no chance, shooting 11 over and missing the cut for just the second time in his career. He battled a bone bruise for the next three months.

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This time, Mickelson hasn’t even attempted a shot out of the rough – “I’d rather wait to get hurt during the tournament than before it,” he joked – nor has he practiced out of the fairway bunkers, which are so deep and fluffy that they’re basically a blast-out.

Mickelson has also reversed his pre-tournament routine. After practicing Monday (typically an off-day during major weeks), he flew home to San Diego to attend daughter Sophia’s eighth-grade graduation. He didn’t touch a club Tuesday because of the ceremony and long trip back, but he spent a few hours on the course late Wednesday afternoon in advance of his 2:09 p.m. ET tee time Thursday.

He said the challenge here, as it’s been ever since his surprising victory at Muirfield, is shifting his focus away from the result (the career Grand Slam!) and more into the process. So far, it’s proved to be just talk. Whether it was his self-imposed pressure or his game simply wasn’t there, the last two Opens haven’t gone well, with no finish better than 28th.

“I could BS you and tell you I didn’t think about it,” he said of the Slam. “But no, I think about it all the time.”

Though he remains relatively healthy on the eve of his 46th birthday, this Open might prove to be his last real opportunity to snag that elusive Open. His putter is no longer a liability – he’s ranked third on Tour in putting – and he’s recorded more top-10s this season (five) than in his last two listless years combined.

But Mickelson is in a vastly different position than any of the other 155 players in this week’s field. Each year he is asked, repeatedly, to reopen old wounds, to discuss the most crushing disappointments of an otherwise legendary career. Alas, there are plenty for him to sort through – most notably, the three-putt from 5 feet on 17 at Shinnecock; the wayward drive and 3-iron that nailed a tree on the 18th at Winged Foot; the airmailed wedge on 13 at Merion – but Mickelson maintains that he has the necessary experience and game plan to win. After all of the close calls, his self-belief hasn’t wavered.

“My career is built on failure,” he said with a wry smile, “and that has been a big motivator for me, because I think how you handle failure is a huge element to becoming successful.”

And so he’s here at Oakmont, embracing a potentially brutal U.S. Open, hoping for carnage and a setup that borders on unfair. Maybe his rationale isn’t so complicated, after all. Mentally, he’s already dealt with much worse.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x