Latest U.S. Open near-miss motivates Mickelson

By Jason SobelJuly 3, 2013, 6:57 pm

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – It’s been two and a half weeks since Phil Mickelson’s latest and – by his own admission – greatest chance of winning the U.S. Open, another opportunity that turned into a soul-crushing defeat on a sullen Sunday. He’s had two and a half weeks to ponder the events that transpired at Merion Golf Club that fateful afternoon. Two and a half weeks to mourn. Two and a half weeks to lament.

When he is asked about the dark days that came after a sixth career runner-up Open finish, a number which extended his own personal record, he smiles. Not a forced smile or a polite smile, but a genuine smile at the recollection of the time that followed.

“We had such a great time,” he says. “Oh, my goodness.”

Believe it or not, Mickelson didn’t spend the last two and a half weeks curled up in the fetal position, getting up only to kick himself at the memory of unforced errors. He returned to San Diego for two days at home, then took a family vacation to the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont.


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“It’s the greatest place on earth,” he maintains unabashedly. “We did fly fishing, the kids did trap shooting, archery – like, real archery, shooting these awesome arrows – whitewater rafting, ziplining. My oldest daughter is big into paleontology, loves dinosaurs and history. The most world-renowned paleontologist is there. His name is Jack Horner. We ended up having a chance to spend time with him for an hour on Amanda’s birthday and it was the first time I’ve seen her star-struck. It was so cool.”

There is no correct way to overcome a loss like the one Mickelson suffered at this year’s U.S. Open. No singular method of rebounding from yet another torturous blow.

Three times during the final round his name was atop the leaderboard. All three times he quickly retreated from that position. When the dust settled and the horizon cleared, he had finished two strokes behind winner Justin Rose, another white-knuckler in a career filled with them.

With time to ruminate on his personal list of “The One That Got Away,” he ranks it No. 1, behind even the 2006 edition of the tournament, when he let a lead slip away on the final hole at Winged Foot.

“I was playing so well and the golf course is suited for me and everything just set up perfectly,” he says. “Winged Foot, there’s no way I was going to hit that last fairway. I hadn’t hit a fairway all day. That would have been pretty cool to win that one having driven it as badly as I did. It would have been unheard of. But Merion I was playing really well. Still am.”

Therein lies perhaps the greatest takeaway from Mickelson’s defeat: It’s actually motivated him to continue playing better golf.

“I’m disappointed,” he acknowledges. “It took me a few days to just not do much, but the fact is, in the last few months I’ve had some breakthroughs in my game. I’m playing better than I have in years. My putting hasn’t been this good in four or five years. My driving is off the charts. I mean, I’m hitting fairways at the U.S. Open and I’m moving it out there a decent amount. So I’m excited to keep playing, because I keep putting myself in good positions and I’m playing better than I have in a long time. In years.”

Just because he’s looking ahead to the future doesn’t mean Mickelson has been able to completely block out the past.

When he looks back at that final round, he points to wedge shots on 13 and 15 as his ultimate undoing. Each led to an untimely bogey and undeterred irony – one of the game’s all-time great wedge players failing to win the tournament he’s wanted for so long because of faulty wedge play.

“I misclubbed on 13,” he admits. “I never should have hit a pitching wedge; I should have hit a gap and take the back out of play. Because if I overcook to the pin, it goes long, so that was a misclub. … We had a lot of wind. We had wind swinging in and left to right. It picked up when we got there. I thought, ‘Gosh, if I hit a gap wedge into this wind, I wonder if it will carry.’ It just kind of came up at a bad time. That’s when the rain came. I started putting on 12 and the wind and the rain picked up. We got to the 13th tee box and I ended up taking one more club.

“And then I quit on 15. I had a perfect gap wedge. If I hit it hard and fly it, get it past the hole, it should come back down that hill. I quit on it and put it in such a bad spot.”

With that, Mickelson pauses and shrugs. “Oh, well,” he sighs. It’s not a measure of carelessness or insensitivity. Just the concession of a player who has felt this heartache before and grown accustomed to it again over the past two and a half weeks.

“It happens,” he says. “Golf is a game that you end up losing so much more than you win. You have to deal with losing a lot more. Even the highest-percentage winners of all time lose more than they win. It’s like batting in baseball. The best hitters still fail a majority of the time. It happens. But it’s time to move on, you know?

“I had a good chance to win and I’m certainly bummed that I didn’t, but I can’t wait to get back out and play. It’s exciting for me, because I’m just starting to play at the level I always knew I could.”

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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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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.

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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."


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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."