Phil being Phil, adds bit of buzz to low-key Ryder Cup

By Jason SobelSeptember 24, 2014, 4:20 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Phil Mickelson will speak about any topic. Really. Just ask him. Want to chat politics? He’ll offer a position on tax reform. The big game? He’ll tell you to take the underdog at home. Outer space and dinosaurs? Both subjects are right up his eclectic alley.

In a world where participants’ words are often used as extinguishers, Mickelson has never been afraid to fan a few flames. On Wednesday, he started a virtual brushfire here in the Scottish Highlands, causing commotion at a Ryder Cup where the previous biggest controversy revolved around three letters shaved into a player’s head.

When asked about competing alongside his United States teammates, Mickelson fired a shot that was almost immediately heard ‘round the world.

“Well, not only are we able to play together, we also don't litigate against each other,” he said. “And that's a real plus, I feel, heading into this week.”

That missive was a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the ongoing legal battle between European opponents Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Forget that Mickelson made the comment with a smile plastered across his face. Or that he quickly retreated from those words by following with, “I couldn’t resist. Sorry.” During an emotionally charged week that had yet to charge many emotions, Mickelson’s playful jab was enough to generate plenty of buzz.

“Phil's always Phil,” grinned teammate Rickie Fowler. “That's why we love him. We hear a lot of those one-liners in practice rounds in Tuesday games, so it's nothing new to me.”

There’s little doubt Mickelson tried this line on for size in the team room before springing it upon the world. Because if we’ve learned anything from his choice of words over the years, it’s not just that he has an opinion on every topic. It’s that each of these opinions is also tinged with some sort of agenda.

What’s the agenda here? Maybe he wanted to pump some life into festivities that were clearly lacking. Maybe he wanted to take the heat off his teammates who have been continuously – and tiresomely – answering questions about being overmatched this week.

Or maybe this was a public dig at McIlroy, who hasn’t held back from opining about Mickelson lately.

Only two weeks ago, the world’s No. 1-ranked player said, “Phil's 43 or whatever he is and Tiger's nearly 40. So they're getting into the sort of last few holes of their career.” A correct statement, but a needling one nonetheless. And just Wednesday morning, when comparing his own pre-Ryder Cup equipment change with that of Mickelson’s a decade ago, he offered, “Phil Mickelson nearly hit me off the tees in 2004 … so I'm very aware of what he did that week.”

Neither comment was incendiary, but then again, neither was Mickelson’s own jab.

And yet, here at Gleneagles, where the famed tabloids have been frothing at the mouth while awaiting the slightest salacious material, it’s already being treated like another shot heard ‘round the world – the one that started the Revolutionary War.

How will this affect the Ryder Cup?!?

Will it fire up the Europeans?!? Embolden the Americans?!?

What impact will this have?!?!?!?

All of those questions will be laboriously asked, batted around by pundits like a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. They’ll have the same effect, too, going around and around until they get bored and move on to some other plaything.

It has already been pointed out that Mickelson, who was embroiled in an FBI investigation earlier this year, shouldn’t throw stones from his glass house. And that would be a fair point, if he was the type who more often used his words to extinguish rather than inflame.

Instead, he knew exactly what he was doing, taking some team room jocularity public, unleashing the first bit of xenophobic emotion into an event which will produce so much more of it beginning on Friday.

“Phil's been there and he's a leader,” explained U.S. captain Tom Watson. “He's the guy that talks. He talks smack. He talks the way you're supposed to be talking in the locker room. He talks the locker room talk and he gets people talking back to him. That's what you have to do.”

He didn’t, though, have to do … this. He didn’t have to fan those flames. He didn’t have to give the rivalry its first piece of bulletin board material this week.

No, he didn’t have to. But he wanted to.

Remember, there’s always an agenda when it comes to Mickelson’s comments. Even though this one was mentioned in a playful manner, it wasn’t a mistake. It didn’t slip out by accident. He knew what he was doing.

The reaction to this public brand of banter was swift and, in some cases, spiteful. There was a hidden rationale behind it, though, one which only he knows. As for the rest of us, well, at least it gives us a veritable ball of yarn to bat around for a few days until the real shots start being fired.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.