Phil Pining for First Open Victory

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 13, 2005, 4:00 pm
Phil Mickelson doesnt watch the tape. He remembers the good parts well enough, and there are certain other parts he'd rather forget.
 
Mickelson doesnt need to view a replay of the 1999 U.S. Open to remind him of what happened that Sunday in Pinehurst, N.C. He recalls quite vividly the putts he missed: the 7-footer for par on 16; the 7-footer for birdie on 17; and the 25-footer for birdie on 18.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has three runner-up finishes in his last six U.S. Open appearances.
He also recalls just as clearly the putts Payne Stewart made: the 25-foot par save on 16; the 3-foot birdie putt on 17; and the 15-foot birdie clincher on 18.
 
I think that I have looked back, but I really don't remember much of the round now except the last three holes, and I stopped really rehashing it, he said.
 
And hell never forget the way Stewart approached him in the chaotic aftermath ' when Stewart embraced Mickelsons face with both his hands and told him the joys of fatherhood would far outweigh this disappointment.
 
I was most impressed with Payne when here he just won the greatest championship of the game and he's thinking about Amy and myself, Mickelson said. He's very prophetic, too; being a father is the most fulfilling thing that I've ever experienced in life.
 
Once again, the best in the game have returned to the No. 2 course at Pinehurst; this time for the 105th edition of the United States Open. Unfortunately, they do so without Stewart, who died in a plane accident just four months after his most defining victory.
 
This is the second major of the season, with Tiger Woods having won the Masters in April. It marks an opportunity for Woods to complete the second leg of the seasonal Grand Slam for the second time in four years.
 
It also marks an opportunity for the United States Golf Association to redeem themselves after being taken to task by players, media and fans after the way they set up last years venue, Shinnecock Hills.
 
Complaints were few and far between in regards to the way Pinehurst was set up in 99. Most players ' at least those not named John Daly ' enjoyed the unique challenge the course presented. They liked the fact that the courses defense against red numbers was shifted from the fairways to the greens.
 
Only one player finished under par in 99. And he was only one stroke to the good.
 
But what a good stroke that last one was. Stewarts reaction is one of the most indelible images in golf history.
 
Mickelson can see it clearly. He doesnt need to close his eyes or watch it on tape.
 
There is one video, however, he enjoys viewing. The event took place in 2004 in Augusta, Ga. It also ends with a player making about a 15-foot putt on the final hole to win by a stroke.
 
I've actually watched that probably four or five times, yeah, Mickelson said with a laugh about the 04 Masters, which he won for his first major championship. Of course I knew the outcome then, but it was more exciting for me.
 
Come Sunday he may very well want a copy of the 2005 U.S. Open for his own collection.
 
Five for the Title:
 
Phil Mickelson
No one this week will be a more sentimental choice to win than Mickelson. And no one should be a more favored pick than Mickelson either. The left-hander has a short game like no other, which is critical to scoring and saving shots around Pinehursts greens, which Woods likened to upside-down bowls. Mickelson has three runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, and they have all come on non-traditional Open venues: Pinehurst, 1999; Bethpage Black, 2002; Shinnecock, 2004. While most of the top players were competing at the Memorial two weeks ago, Mickelson got in some quality practice time at Pinehurst. He then tried to stir up his competitive juices last week at Congressional, where he tied for 29th in the Booz Allen Classic after a disappointing, closing 74.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is seeking his third U.S. Open victory in the last six years.
The last time Woods won the Masters, he went on to win the U.S. Open, and the golf world was abuzz with Grand Slam talk. Its just a murmur right now, but should he win this week cover your ears. Like Mickelson, Woods already has a couple of Pinehurst practice rounds under his belt, playing the course last week. But while Mickelson reportedly took seven hours during one round to familiarize himself with the layouts intricacies, Woods reportedly completed two rounds in about five hours. Woods, who finished two back of Stewart in 99, tied for third in his last start at the Memorial. He said that his game is in great shape, despite his historic missed cut at the Byron Nelson.
 
Vijay Singh
Singh tied Woods for third place six years ago at Pinehurst. He did so thanks to leading the field in scrambling. Singh missed 36 of 72 greens in regulation at Pinehurst in 99, but still made par or better on 27 of those occasions. If the ever-accurate Singh can get his ball to finish on the green only half of the time, you know scrambling is going to be an important category this week. Singh would dearly love to win the U.S. Open; not because of this years venue, but because it would give him three legs of the career Grand Slam. To do so, however, hell have to find the form that has led to three wins and seven top-3s this season. In his last two starts, Singh has a missed cut and a tie for 29th.
 
Retief Goosen
The defending champion doesnt have very many positive memories in relation to his last competitive foray to Pinehurst. He shot 75-82 to miss the cut by 10 shots. Of course, that was a much different Goosen ' one who hadnt won two U.S. Open titles. Putting was the key to Stewarts success in 99, as he led the field in putting average. Goosen is a tremendous clutch putter. He needed only 11 swipes over his final nine holes in winning at Shinnecock last year. On a course that emphasizes the importance of the short game, Goosen should be confident in his chance of becoming just the second player (Curtis Strange, 1988-89) in over 50 years to repeat as champion.
 
Jim Furyk
Weve been pushing Furyk as a favorite hard over the last month, and hes performed fairly well. He closed in 64-68 to tie for eighth at the Memorial two weeks ago. Last week, however, he tied for 37th. Furyk, like Goosen, is a great clutch putter. He has one U.S. Open title (2003 at Olympia Fields) to his credit, and has total package to add another one.
 
Playing Out the Front Nine:
 
Four more players to keep an eye on
 
*Ernie Els, who is a two-time U.S. Open champion. Els was in contention to win his third Open trophy last year, but shot 80 in the final round at a baked-out Shinnecock. Els missed the cut here in 99 and admits to having a greater affinity for the championships more traditional, tree-lined courses.
 
*Chris DiMarco, who lost to Woods in a playoff at this years Masters. It should be interesting to see how DiMarco fares in his first major since that difficult defeat at Augusta. He tied for ninth last year at Shinnecock for his best-ever Open finish. He also leads the tour in putting average, which should be a critical statistic this week.
 
*Luke Donald, who is among the chic picks this week. Donald has the consistency to eventually be a U.S. Open champion. He tied for 18th in his lone Open appearance at Bethpage Black in 2002. In addition to putting average, another statistical category of importance this week is scrambling. Donald is tied with Jose Maria Olazabal for first on tour in this department. Tony Jacklin, however, is the last European player to win the Open, doing so in 1970.
 
*David Duval, who led the field in greens hit in regulation in 99 at Pinehurst. Duval most certainly wont win this week, but hes definitely worth keeping an eye on. He hasnt played since missing the cut at the Masters. In between the seasons first two majors, he became a first-time father and has been working with his former college coach, Puggy Blackmon, in hopes of finding his old swing.
 
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.