Mickelson: Back fine, game rusty

By Jason SobelJanuary 30, 2014, 10:10 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson effortlessly bounded up the hill behind TPC Scottsdale’s ninth green early Thursday afternoon, that familiar perma-grin still affixed to his face despite a final-hole bogey.

The bad news was that it concluded an opening round of even-par 71, 11 strokes higher than his first day here at the Waste Management Phoenix Open a year ago. The good news was that any sign of a lingering back injury had melted away under the desert sun.

If there were still questions following a round that didn’t include any wincing, cringing or grimacing, Mickelson answered them quickly, succinctly and repeatedly afterward.

“Honestly, it's no big deal,” he explained. “It was a five-minute fix. I just have to be careful for a week or two as it heals up. It's fine. Mobility is back. It's just not a big deal.”

But … it was bad enough that you were forced to withdraw from last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, then fly cross-country to receive treatment.

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, videos and photos

“It was no big deal. I did what I needed to do last week and gave it a few days to rest up and get fixed by [specialist] Tom [Boers], and now I feel great.”

But … it could have hampered your preparation for this week’s event, keeping you from playing your best game in the opening round.

“The game just was a little rusty. I made some careless swings. Hitting it in the water on 12 was just pathetic, and playing the last five holes at 3 over when I had the round going ... that was really bad.”

But … it sort of looked like you grabbed your lower back after that first swing of the day on No. 10.

“No, it felt good. Yeah, it's really nothing serious. It was a five-minute thing. It's fine.”

But … it must leave you worried about long-term prospects in a year when you’ve publicly stated a goal of finally winning the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam.

“No, it happens every now and then. Last time was about four years ago. ... It's one of those things. It's not a big deal.”

But … you can’t be very optimistic about your chances this week after so many players went low in ideal conditions.

“It doesn't feel far off. The back feels great. I should be able to come out tomorrow and hit a good round.”

To summarize: The back injury heard 'round the world wasn’t a big deal and is pretty much almost totally completely fine now.

The golf game, though, hasn’t quite caught up.

After a pair of pars to start his morning, Mickelson pulled his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole into the greenside water hazard and made double bogey. He bounced back with birdies on his next two holes, then went on a bit of a red-number binge, adding five more in his next 10 holes.

As he alluded, however, the lefty closed with three bogeys in his final five holes, including a failure to get up and down from the bunker on his final hole before effortlessly bounding up that hill behind it.

The numbers – including the final tally of 71 strokes – weren’t too impressive, either. Mickelson found only five of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation, and needed 30 putts – a half-dozen more than this day a year ago.

It could have all been explained away by a back injury. Even just a mild inconvenience that prevented him from preparing the way he would have liked.

Instead, the three-time tournament champion just explained it away as golf, confident in the knowledge that he’ll have another opportunity to turn it around on Friday.

“I felt like it was going to be a good day, a good tournament, and to let those shots fly are disappointing,” he said. “I have to come out tomorrow and get a really hot round going to get back in this.”

Getty Images

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.''

Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."