Mickelson thumps Woods in Sunday duel

By Jason SobelFebruary 13, 2012, 3:32 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One after the other, the game’s two biggest stars ascended into one of the game’s most hallowed arenas. Their measured footsteps revealed a familiar path from the practice green, past a sculpture of Pebble Beach founder Samuel F.B. Morse and various weathered plaques, including one listing every champion of what for years was so lovingly referred to as the Crosby Clambake, but now goes by the corporate code of AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

If either man stopped to inspect the plaque, he would have found his own name etched into the presentation. This was no time to stop. Each bounced up the 13 stairs carpeted in Masters-green Astroturf, reaching the first tee box to the hushed reverence of hundreds of spectators. It was a telling reaction from the gallery. Others may have cheered wildly or continued casual conversations amongst themselves. This one just watched collectively, waiting, hoping, knowing that it was about to be treated to a performance that would have made Morse proud.

The specter of optimism permeated the air. Hopefulness isn’t an easy commodity to pinpoint; the simplest way to describe it is that you’ll know it when you feel it. And you could readily feel it on this opening tee box.

Phil Mickelson strode in first. Head held high, famous grin faintly emerging across his face, a look of determination in his eyes. He needed to play well in this final round – no, he needed to win. To prove wrong those doubters who believed he was washed up. But more importantly, to prove it to himself. Over the first month of the season, Mickelson struggled with carrying his game over from practice to competition, later intimating, “I started to wonder if I'm going to be able to bring it to the golf course.”

Tiger Woods followed. Eyes tunneling forward, chest puffed in a display of what masqueraded as indignance, but wholly existed as focus. He needed to win, too. In a career that paralleled that of Mickelson only in chronological arc, Woods’ string of 71 career victories had been halted nearly two-and-a-half years earlier. This day would serve as his next unmitigated opportunity to correct that pattern, his latest chance to make a grandiose statement that he is indeed back – back amongst the game’s upper echelon and back within the consciousness of every other competitor.

Optimism is a funny thing. It can ebb and flow, rise and fall based on momentum. Standing on the first tee at exactly 9:29 a.m. local time on Sunday morning, there was no way to tell what each player’s optimism would wreak. There was no way to tell that almost six full hours later, on the 18th green about a 4-iron away from the Morse sculpture and the plaques and the 13 stairs and that opening tee, one player would be enveloped by it, his entire body language screaming its virtues, while the other would be utterly devoid of those positive feelings.

Without further suspense, it was Mickelson who waltzed down the final fairway with panache, that famous smile now stretched across his face. When he curled in his last birdie putt to solidify a bogey-free 8-under 64 that netted his 40th career PGA Tour title, the mercurial lefthander acknowledged the fans, hugged his caddie, kissed his wife and kept on smiling.

He smiled not only because he won, but because he proved to the doubters that he could still reach such an accomplishment. No, because he proved it to himself.

“It's one of the more emotional victories for me that I've had and the reason is, I've had some doubt these last couple of weeks,” Mickelson confided. “This gives me a lot of confidence and erases the doubt.”

His post-round celebration on the final green was a crescendo of the optimism that permeated the air before he started. He birdied the second hole and the fourth and the fifth, optimism giving way to comfort, comfort giving way to exuberance. By the time he eagled the par-5 sixth hole, Mickelson – and his bevy of supporters behind the ropes – was downright euphoric, building on the momentum with every footstep across the venerable coastal links.

By the time he posted a brilliant par save on the 12th, consecutive birdies on 13 and 14, and another irrepressible par save on the 15th, Mickelson was billowing with enthusiasm, armed with the knowledge that his long-awaited victory was all but assured.

Let’s not pretend that the triumph wasn’t made even sweeter by the fact that it came over his longtime nemesis. Mickelson would only allow afterward that, “He seems to bring out the best in me and the last four or five years, I've played some of my best golf playing with him and I really enjoy it.” He really enjoys beating him, too. Enjoys checking the leaderboard and seeing his name ahead, enjoys celebrating on the final green while Woods can only watch with contempt.

Yes, by that point in the proceedings, Woods’ pre-round optimism had dissolved into the mighty Pacific. He trudged off the course, brow furrowed, lips downturned to display a world-class frown. He waited for an interview with a television reporter in uneasy silence, then answered a few more questions from the awaiting throng of media members before being whisked away from the venue.

“It was a fun day to be out there,” he claimed, “but also in the end, it was very frustrating at the same time.”

From the time he made five pars to start his round to the three consecutive bogeys to conclude his front nine to the back-to-back bogeys on 14 and 15, Woods exuded that frustration. Even more telling, he appeared uncertain. He admitted later that he could never get comfortable with his swing and his putting stroke looked fiercely inconsistent, missing five putts of less than 6 feet during the round.

When the debris settled, it all added up to a 3-over 75, a whopping 11 shots worse than his playing partner and good for a share of 15th place.

And just as Mickelson’s win gratified him more because it came against Woods, Woods’ loss hurt more because it came against Mickelson. Neither will concede that fact. You’ll just have to believe it.

Just as you’ll have to believe that optimism once reigned in the minds of both players on this day. It’s a funny thing, those ebbs and flows of hopefulness. They led to one of the most important wins of one man’s career on Sunday and dissolved during one of the most crushing losses for another.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm