Mickelson all smiles at WGC recalling Open triumph

By Jason SobelJuly 30, 2013, 10:06 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Phil Mickelson can’t stop smiling. The man with golf’s most ubiquitous grin hasn’t quit flashing those pearly whites since nine days and one continent ago. When inquired about the result of his Tuesday practice round match here at Firestone Country Club, the smile only dissipates slightly at the mention of a tough battle, then immediately reappears when he remembers the big picture.

“But you know what?” he says beaming. “I’ve still got the claret jug!”

You get the feeling Mickelson has delivered these words pretty frequently over the past week, not only in response to others, but as a reaffirmation to himself. As a man who has not only won five major championships, but found despair in even more, it only makes sense that he’d require a gentle self-reminder every so often that he really did win the one he always believed would elude him.

It makes even more sense if you listen to the story he revealed in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational interview room.

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“I'm going to share something with you...”

Anytime a player of Mickelson’s caliber is about to reveal a secret, every ear in the room perks up.

“I had something happen to me Sunday morning of the U.S. Open that was really weird,” he continues. “When I woke up, I had dreamt that I had already won the U.S. Open, and so I had the same feelings and excitement that I had won. I finally won the U.S. Open. It was such a great feeling. And it took me over a minute to realize that I haven't played the final round and that I've got to go out and still do it.”

He didn’t, of course. Mickelson could only parlay the 54-hole lead into a sixth career runner-up result at the event, later calling it the most heartbreaking loss in a series of heartbreaking losses.

But that dream of finally winning it prior to the final round has led to him being a little gunshy in the aftermath of winning the Open Championship.

“Every day I wake up in the last nine days, honestly, I look at the trophy to make sure that I haven't just dreamt that, that I actually did win it and I already played the final round,” he admits. “It's just one of those little weird things that we all go through.”

Sure, we all may have dreams of winning a major, but most of ours don’t come true a month later.

And most of us don’t have the ultimate dream come true twice in one lifetime. There are some definitive ways of comparing and contrasting Mickelson’s first major win – the 2004 Masters – with his most recent one, each in itself the fulfillment of a figurative dream, if not a literal one.

“You can make a comparison in terms of the big picture,” explains Jim “Bones” Mackay, his trusty sidekick for the entirety of his professional career. “The ’04 Masters for me was great, but it was also a relief that he wasn’t going to have to answer that major question anymore. Now, a few majors later, the British Open this year, I think was a reward for how hard, at his age, he continues to work, because he works as hard at 43 as he did at 23.”

While Phil and Bones have worked in concert for more than two decades, occasionally a player and caddie will have a disagreement. This is one of those times. On Tuesday, each man was asked the following question:

When you look back 20-30 years from now on everything that’s been accomplished on the course, what is the one most indelible image or lasting memory?

Mickelson: “I think it will always be '04 Masters and showing off my Olympic jumping ability.”

Mackay: “It would definitely be his arms raised at the British Open. Without question.”

The disagreement doesn’t last long, as they each wax poetic on the recent win at Muirfield.

“For me personally, the British Open is the greatest accomplishment I could ever get in my career because of the shots that I had to learn and the challenge that it created for me over the course of my career,” Mickelson said. “It was so difficult for me to play my best golf in the British Open under those conditions than any other tournament that to win that is the greatest accomplishment for me in my career.”

“I was there in person and everything happened so fast,” Mackay added, “but when you go back and watch the highlights and you see his arms go up then you see everyone else’s arms go up in the grandstands, I find that to be pretty cool.”

It’s a nice problem to have, not being able to agree upon which major championship title will endure as the most lasting memory in a career.

For now, Mickelson will keep on smiling – and keep on reminding himself that winning the claret jug wasn’t just a dream. It was a dream come true.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.