Mickelson's summer swoon; needs to turn up the heat

By August 9, 2011, 9:49 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – It may not be as grim as the Open Championship stats, but Phil Mickelson doesn’t have the best record in a PGA Championship, either. Sure, he has won – in 2005 at Baltusrol to set up whispers of a “Mickelslam” before the U.S. Open at Winged Foot happened – but this championship is typically unkind to the four-time major winner.

Aside from his win six years ago, Mickelson has just two other top-three finishes in the year’s final major. He finished in solo third in 1994 when the PGA Championship was emerging from its dark era. The other top-three finish came here at Atlanta Athletic Club 10 years ago.

Mickelson finished a shot behind David Toms, who had the guts to lay up from the rough at the par-4 72nd hole with the championship on the line. Toms made the par from 12 feet to win his one and only major title. 

The win by Toms was part of another era of mostly major parity. Barring consecutive Woods majors to begin 2002, there was not a repeat major winner from the U.S. Open in ’01 until Retief Goosen ended Mickelson’s first hope of a Grand Slam with a spectacular back nine of putting to win his second Open at Shinnecock.

In a time where a dozen different guys – including Mickelson – have won the last 12 major titles, it almost seems a fitting place for the left-hander to return in hopes of a second Wanamaker trophy.

Mickelson opened 10 years ago in uncharacteristic fashion. He positioned himself for his first major win with three straight rounds of 66. But the Mickelson that doesn’t win major championships reared his ugly face in the final round. Having nodded with Toms thanks to a chip-in at the par-3 15 hole – the same one that the eventual winner aced on Saturday – Mickelson took three putts to get down on the 16th green. In the process, Mickelson ceded the lead to Toms and cleared the stage for what might be the most memorable layup in major championship history.

In the 10 years that have passed, a lot of things have changed. Mickelson got his major and three more. Woods is no longer No. 1. He’s no longer in the top 10. As a husband, Mickelson has helped his wife battle breast cancer. A patient himself, Mickelson has had to learn to manage the effects of psoriatic arthritis. Perhaps above all, Lefty is now a 40-something. Actually, he’s 41.

That means the window is closing for Mickelson to produce another major championship win. He is a salmon fighting upstream against multiple forces.

Perhaps the strongest current is the wave of parity in the game that has made domination almost impossible. The world’s top two players have zero majors to their credit. In fact, Mickelson has double the number of majors among the remainder of the Official World Golf Ranking top-10 combined.

Mickelson is batting a lineup of top-rated players who are prolific at raking in money, but not raking in major trophies. They’re not his worry, though. The major champions these days seem to emerge from nowhere, unexpectedly, and blindside the golf world. Mickelson doesn’t need to be afraid of the names around him. He needs to be concerned about the players who can ride one hot week to golf immortality.

Then again, perhaps there is some solace for Mickelson in the last of the dozen to win majors. It might offer some hope that one for the thumb is in the offing for Mickelson. Darren Clarke, 42, rode his greatest week ever to a major championship title at Royal St. George’s. No one saw it coming but for maybe Clarke’s agent Chubby Chandler. At least if someone is going to win out of nowhere, it was a guy who has been gnawing at the bit for two decades. 

What Clarke did, though, to win his Open Championship was to take the process of preparing for a major more seriously than he had at perhaps any time in his career. Recognizing the sands dropping in the hourglass, the Ulsterman made sure to do things the right way to give himself the best chance at success. Clearly, it worked.

Mickelson may have to hunker down in the same way that Clarke did – or, maybe more appropriately, how he did himself for Royal St. George’s. The Open joint runner-up produced his best finish in the game’s oldest major by trying to hit the reset button on his approach to the most unkind of the Big Four to him over the years. Deciding to try to embrace a style that clashed with him in the past, Mickelson found a way to thrive and give Clarke a serious run for his Guinness.

The same approach should apply this week. Mickelson typically plays his best golf in the first half of the major docket. He has won three Masters – an event that largely defines his year – and is a perennial favorite for the U.S. Open despite never winning it.

Then Mickelson enters a summer swoon, kind of like the stock market. For whatever reason, Mickelson simply does not fare as well in the hottest of the summer and beyond. Maybe it’s the California in the man, but humidity, heat and sweat are not in Mickelson’s bag. No wonder he won his lone PGA in New Jersey. Were it not for the FedEx Cup playoffs or the annual flag-waving team matches, Mickelson might well shut it down after this week.

Instead of winding it down this week, Mickelson needs to turn it up to 11 in a place where the mercury has an off-chance of reaching 100. Draw from something – the close call of ’01, the uplifting result at the Open Championship, whatever – and be inspired to play the kind of golf that can win a major for the thumb. It would pull him even with Seve Ballesteros and only further the legend of the left-hander. 

Perhaps the best motivation is combining the two and listening to a whole lot of Foreigner to make it feel like the first time again for Phil Mickelson.

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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.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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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.

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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."

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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.


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.