Punch Shot: Which roller-coaster ride you going on?

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 3, 2014, 12:10 pm

It's been a wild ride recently for Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy, and there are no signs of steadiness as the U.S. Open nears. We asked our writers: Which roller-coaster ride are you jumping on at Pinehurst No. 2?


Here is a partial list of things that can be described with “Phil Mickelson” as the adjective:

Leaping about 2 inches in the air after clinching his first major, then gloating about his vertical; pushing a wayward drive with the lead on the final hole of the U.S. Open, then calling himself an “idiot” afterward; hitting a 207-yard shot over water through a space in the trees barely bigger than his golf ball; owning eternal optimism even when the deck is heavily stacked against him.

Each of these moments will be prominently featured on the next edition of “That’s So Phil!”

For a man who once had an entire advertising campaign that revolved around wondering what he would do next, Mickelson has made a career out of surprising us – both positively and negatively.

Entering next week’s U.S. Open, with the pressure of trying to avenge six career runner-up finishes and knowing he doesn’t own a single top-10 on the PGA Tour this season and in the throes of being investigated by the FBI for insider trading, all signs point to a disappointing journey through Pinehurst. All of which is the exact reason I’m picking him to once again be right in the heat of contention come Sunday afternoon.

Does it make sense? Of course not. But that’s what could make this tournament the most Phil Mickelson of them all.


Phil Mickelson is made to order for this U.S. Open if outside forces don't derail him.

Hey, he nearly won at Pinehurst No. 2 when they had rough back in ’99.

With the new setup, with wider fairways, with no rough, with sandy waste areas allowing for more escape routes after errant shots, this U.S. Open feels like it's going to be a terrific fit for Mickelson.

Factor in Pinehurst No. 2's turtle-back greens, where a creative short game is even more of an asset than usual, and this U.S. Open appears tailor made for him.

If the FBI/SEC investigation looming over him doesn’t grow more serious, the stars just might be lining up for Mickelson to break through and complete the career Grand Slam.


If there’s still room to board, I’ll take a ride on the McIlroy Express next week at Pinehurst.

Rory McIlroy’s recent flurry of 40-plus nines has garnered considerable attention, and his repeated inability to card a decent round on Friday is arguably the most puzzling trend of the 2014 season. But rather than focus on Friday’s 78 at Muirfield Village, I’m looking at Thursday’s 63 – when the Ulsterman proved once again that his best is better than that of the rest of the field, and often by a wide margin.

McIlroy has remained on the fringe of contention this year despite extended stretches of hack golf – not the Mark King variety – and he got a confidence boost with a final-round rally to win the BMW PGA Championship two weeks ago. He certainly has the game to win at Pinehurst, where his ability to loft iron approaches high in the air will prove handy hitting into turtleback greens.

Each of McIlroy’s two major wins have come from simply blowing away the field, and he has flashed signs of his former brilliance in recent weeks. While it’s still conceivable that his hopes could unravel around lunchtime Friday, I’ll take my chances.


With the possible exception of Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy’s ride the last 18 months has been an A-ticket, white-knuckle deal.

Since winning the 2012 PGA Championship, the former world No. 1 has endured an equipment-induced swoon, a high-profile management team swap and, just last week, an emotional and very public split with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki.

He emerged from last year’s slump with a hard fought victory at the Australian Masters where he went head-to-head with future world No. 1 Adam Scott; and answered any concerns over the break up of “Wozzilroy,” the popular phrase for McIlroy and Wozniacki, with a come-from-behind victory at last week’s BMW PGA Championship.

There are still concerns. Particularly after he opened with a scorching 63 on Thursday at last week’s Memorial Tournament only to play the rest of the way in 3 over par.

But when it comes to the vast collection of potential contenders in two weeks at Pinehurst, McIlroy has proven he has the resilience to emerge from the deepest valley at just the right peak.

That McIlroy has already won a U.S. Open also factors into the discussion. He overpowered Congressional in 2011 with an atomic driver and showed flashes of that same brilliance last week in Ohio.

By all indications, McIlroy’s rollercoaster ride stops at Pinehurst.


Much has changed for Rory McIlroy since November – he won a tournament (Australian Open), got engaged, squandered a chance to win (Honda Classic), broke off the engagement, won another title (BMW PGA), tweaked his knee and shot a nine-hole score of 40 or worse in four consecutive PGA Tour starts.

That’s a tumultuous few months, both on the course and off, but one thing has remained unchanged: He’s played some pretty good golf. Since November, he has yet to finish outside the top 25, with 11 top-10s worldwide. If nothing else, the kid is resilient, and it’s a big reason why he’ll contend next week at Pinehurst.

Eighth on Tour in driving distance, McIlroy will be able to dial it back off the tee to ensure that he’s in the short stuff, then rely on an improved iron game to attack the revamped No. 2. The timing is right for a third major, chaotic life or not.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.