Mickelson trying to peak for Masters

By Jason SobelMarch 30, 2013, 7:23 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Phil Mickelson is going to try to steal a page from Jack Nicklaus. He doesn’t want to, really, but circumstances have forced his hand.

He’s not happy about it, not happy about the entire situation. For the last two weeks, Mickelson has told anyone armed with a microphone or tape recorder or notepad willing to listen. It’s just not quite clear at whom he’s directing his anger.

For the first time since 2007 and just the second time in 15 years, Mickelson won’t play the tournament directly preceding the Masters. Like the view of many people in fractured relationships, he’s adopted the attitude of, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

That’s because in the past, that pre-Masters tournament was always the old BellSouth Classic at TPC Sugarloaf, just a few hours down the road from Augusta National, which also featured tree-lined fairways and bentgrass greens. Mickelson liked that setup so much that he once won by 13 strokes, then doubled-down to win a green jacket the next week.

In recent years, it’s been the Shell Houston Open, held on a massive, right-to-left swinging ballpark at Redstone Golf Club, with similar chipping areas to Augusta and green speeds that are at least in the same zip code. It may not be the real McCoy, but it’s close enough that plenty of elite players use this as a final tune-up before the year’s first major.


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This year, though, because of the way the calendar fell, with 14 weeks instead of the usual 13 prior to the Masters, there’s an extra tournament in there. So rather than have a preparatory event beforehand, Mickelson chose to eschew the Valero Texas Open, where the TPC San Antonio host venue shouldn’t have much in common with conditions at Augusta.

All of which leads circuitously back to Nicklaus.

On Saturday, after firing a third-round 5-under 67 to climb the leaderboard in Houston, Mickelson was speaking about how his game is peaking at the right time when he was asked whether – with an extra week in between the tournaments this year – playing so well was coming too soon.

“Nicklaus used to try to peak over the week before and over the weekend and then take a couple days off Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of the tournaments and try to build back into the tournament at Augusta,” Mickelson explained. “I'll have to take a page out of his book because I'm not used to taking a week off before a major. It's not my preference. But I'll try to do what I did where I'll try to peak a little bit early and try to back off and build into the tournament again.”

It’s a strategy he first spoke about with the six-time Masters champion early in his career.

“Years ago, when I first turned pro,” he said. “When I first turned pro, 20 years ago, I asked him about some of the stuff, and I still remember. I wrote some of it down.”

If Mickelson had his choice, he may wish for the Masters to start right this very minute.

One day after maintaining his game was close to where he wants it to be, he opened with a birdie, closed with another and sandwiched five more in between, while posting one of the better scores of the day. He hit more fairways than he did in either of the first two rounds and needed fewer putts. Considering his driver (or 3-wood) and putter will be the most important clubs in the bag at Augusta, this should come as welcome news in Camp Mickelson.

“Each day, the game has gotten a little bit better, and today is where it really started to feel good, where I was able to react,” he explained. “When I'm playing my best, golf becomes kind of a reactionary sport where I'm looking at the target, I see the shot and just swing.

“The first couple of days – the first day especially – I was more conscious about golf swing, about mechanics and whatnot, trying to get things right. Today, I was able to get out of that mode and just start reacting, starting to see the shot, and the game feels a lot better, which is why I'm excited about [Sunday].”

He’s also excited about getting to Augusta National. Mickelson will head there late next week, just “relaxing and getting ready.” It’s a different preparation than he’s accustomed to before the Masters – and he’s still not happy about that.

If he can bottle some of Nicklaus’ advice, though, and hit his peak during that week and not prior to it, Mickelson may just wind up finding his fair share of happiness Sunday evening in Augusta.

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.


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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

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Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”


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The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”