Mickelson provides thrills, spills

By Jason SobelMay 5, 2013, 12:20 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When it comes to Phil Mickelson playing some vintage Mickelson-like golf, Saturday’s final stretch at the Wells Fargo Championship wasn’t exactly the “I’m such an idiot” finale of the 2006 U.S. Open, but it was still the stuff of classic Mickelson.

In case you’ve lost track over the last couple of decades, the ebullient and enigmatic left-hander has fostered a reputation as the consummate gambler, a walking, talking advertisement for the virtues of risk-reward golf.

Here he was once again, zig-zagging his way through both Quail Hollow Club and its ever-changing leaderboard. If any other competitor had flourished and faltered as quickly, he would have been saddled with roller-coaster-like symptoms for a brief spell. When Mickelson does it, that’s just Phil being Phil.

And in usual Mickelson fashion, it had him tied for the lead at day’s end.

It started on the 14th hole. On greens that have been a few measures short of perfect throughout the week, Mickelson has inexplicably excelled. Whereas others have struggled to find the right speed and navigate the unseemly bumpy top layer, he hadn’t missed a putt outside of 10 feet through the first two rounds.

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Video: Lefty stumbles down stretch

He’s made a few lengthy ones, too. And that’s exactly what he did on 14, pouring in an 18-footer to claim sole possession of the lead.

“After I made that putt on 14, I felt really good,” he reported. “I thought I could get one on 15.”

The 15th hole is a par 5 that he’d already birdied one day earlier. This time, though, he pulled his drive way right, landing it just inches from the cart path.

“I got lucky on the tee shot that that didn't go out of bounds I missed it so bad,” he explained. “But the second shot should not have been a problem. It was a very easy lie to hit the shot I wanted to. I probably pulled the wrong club.”

Mickelson took 3-wood and this time roped one out of bounds, the result of hitting it dead straight rather than his planned fade.

After dropping in nearly the same spot for his fourth shot, Mickelson could be excused for wanting to change clubs – but hardly any other player would have made this type of change. Rather than 3-wood, he elected to hit driver and actually produced a much better result, landing it just short of the greenside bunker. From there, though, he would chip and two-putt for a double bogey.

Afterward, he blamed it on poor club selection rather than poor execution.

“Last year I hit the ball on 15 in the water left two or three times,” he recalled. “So with that right-to-left wind, I just gave it a little flip and hooked it and got lucky that the drive didn't go out of bounds. And the second shot should not have been a problem. If I had pulled the driver like I did the second time, it would have cut around no problem. I tried to do it with a 3-wood and it shot straight and went out of bounds. So it was a mistake on my part not hitting the correct club the first time.”

The drama didn’t end there, either. On 16, he found himself in the fairway with a possible chance to get a shot back. Instead, he’d find himself apologizing.

“I had 175 to the hole and 160 to the front edge,” he said. “I have what I call a Pelz 8-iron that flies 160. I thought I would work off of that and try to add a few yards. I came over the top a little bit, and it worked with the left-right wind and went 2 yards off the green.”

It was 2 yards too much.

“Unfortunately, it tagged a lady right in the head,” Mickelson said. “She was pretty cool about it, but boy, it didn't look good. I felt terrible about that.”

When asked the last time he hit a spectator, he deadpanned, “Oh, yesterday. I don't know. It happens a lot.”

Mickelson’s first chip rolled back down the greenside hill toward him, but from there he got up and down to save bogey in characteristic fashion.

Though he made par on each of the last two holes, he viewed that as somewhat of a failure, considering the circumstances entering the final round. With tee times already moved up because of impending inclement weather, Mickelson believed that a 54-hole lead could translate to a victory if the final round is washed away.

“There is a high likelihood we don't get the final round in with the weather coming in tomorrow and Monday, and a good chance that we'll end up having a one-hole playoff,” he explained. “I would have liked to have tried to increase the lead given the opportunities there with the few holes remaining, but I played poorly coming down the stretch, and I'm lucky to be tied for the lead – especially lucky to be tied for the lead if the final round gets washed out.”

Hey, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. As the quintessential gambler on the course, Mickelson knows all about needing a little luck on his side.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.