Mickelson showing no wear from intense spotlight

By Jason SobelJune 4, 2014, 7:20 pm

Believe it or not, there's no PGA Tour statistic called Strokes Gained While Being Investigated for Insider Trading, so in the curious case of Phil Mickelson we're pretty much treading through uncharted waters.

In advance of next week’s U.S. Open, though, that’s what we really want to know. Short of questions such as, “Is he guilty?” and “What will happen if he’s guilty?” the one on everybody’s mind following the report that he’s being investigated by the FBI and SEC is, “How will this affect his performance at the one tournament he so desperately wants to win?”

This is the kind of wearisome narrative that prefaces so many big-time sporting events. It’s sexier than asking how the lack of rough at Pinehurst will impact the leaderboard; it’s more targeted and specific than asking who might contend next week.

We’ve already sent three major storylines through the carwash. Tiger is injured; Adam is married; Rory is single. Been there, done that. And so now the focus turns to Mickelson’s life-long quest to become a U.S. Open champion, the one career goal which has always eluded him.

There is no blueprint for determining how this kind of distraction will affect him, but here are some things we already know about how Mickelson has dealt with adversity in the past:

• He played in 46 majors without a victory, his inefficiency turning into a punch line on late-night talk shows, then rebounded to win not one, but five so far.

• He witnessed both his wife and mother undergoing treatments for cancer and returned to win more majors.

• He underwent his own issues with arthritis and has won a major since then, too.

Mickelson has proven he’s nothing if not buoyant, golf’s answer to Teflon. He is the game's all-time leader in mowing down inquisitive questions from the press while wearing a ubiquitous smile on his face. All of which should leave him confident that this, too, shall pass – no, not the investigation, but the constant consternation over it.

Actually, it already has. The story broke on Friday evening, well after Mickelson had finished his second round at the Memorial Tournament. When he finished playing the next day, he was predictably – and rightly – besieged with questions about the investigation and how it might affect him going forward.

By the next day, he had already so carefully deflected all inquiries regarding this that his post-round interview session included zero questions on the topic.

On Wednesday, following his pro-am round at the FedEx St. Jude Classic he was only indirectly asked about the ongoing investigation. He was asked if he is able to just focus on golf, whether he’s worried about his image, if the legal situation is bothering him.

To the last question, he offered the same response that he so often chose last Saturday: “I can’t really go into it right now, but hopefully soon.”

If these queries are weighing so heavily on Mickelson’s mind that they’re greatly affecting him, then he’s got one heck of a poker face.

It makes sense, though: The initial reports suggested he’s known about this investigation for a few years now. Just because the rest of us know about it now, that shouldn’t make it any more difficult for him.

The truth is, Mickelson was dealing with this matter last summer, too, when he improbably captured the Scottish Open, then backed it up by even more improbably capturing the Open Championship. If he was able to find success during the investigation then, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be able to now.

That’s not to say he will win or contend or even make the cut next week at Pinehurst, site of the first of his six career U.S. Open runner-up results. If he doesn’t, the narrative will still revolve around the investigation. The public takeaway will be that Mickelson couldn’t handle the extra pressure of competing while his dirty laundry was being aired for all to see.

That would be overlooking the obvious, though. If he isn’t a factor at next week’s tournament, it will likely have more to do with the fact that he owns an uncharacteristically spotty record this year – that doesn’t yet include a single top-10 – and the even more pertinent fact that he’s dealing with so many ghosts of U.S. Open past.

Or maybe not. Maybe Mickelson will fail to play his best golf, and then bare his soul, allowing that the investigation negatively impacted his preparation and performance.

So far, that isn’t the case. There is no master diagram to playing elite-level golf while undergoing an insider-trading investigation – and there’s no way of knowing how it will affect a player. From what we’ve seen out of Mickelson over the past few days, however, he’ll continue flashing that ubiquitous smile and deflecting all inquiries.

It’s been working so far. There’s no reason to think that will change next week.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry