Another American almost

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2011, 7:35 pm

SANDWICH, England – Phil Mickelson and the Open Championship normally go together like chocolate brownies and lemonade. Yet there he was Sunday at Royal St. George’s, with a renewed attitude toward links golf, draining putts like we’ve rarely seen in major championship history.

Dustin Johnson’s game seemed more suited to win the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship. Yet there he was in contention to win the game’s oldest major, making this the third time in the last six major championships that Johnson had victory within grasp.

Mickelson drew even and Johnson stood within a shot of Darren Clarke at different points in the final round of the Open Championship. The stars and stripes had an opportunity to stop all the talk of major American drought. It had two of its most dynamic players, in contention with nine holes remaining, trying to beat a 42-year-old man from Northern Ireland who had attempted to capture the claret jug 19 previous times.

Turns out, Uncle Sam is leaving England empty-handed. A country of 1.8 million people has won three major tilts since the last time the U.S. – a country of more than 300 million people – has won one. The last time an American won a major was Mickelson’s emotional victory at the 2009 Masters.

If you bleed red, white and blue this one should hurt as much as any.

Mickelson entered the final round five shots behind Clarke and was considered a long shot to make a charge. He had talked all week about how he wanted to erase the memories of Opens past and treat this week like it was his first.

The approach was, as they say here in southwest England “proper.” Mickelson took his swashbuckling style through nasty weather and posted a front-nine 5-under 30 – that included an eagle at No. 7 – to get within two. A birdie at 10 turned Royal St. George’s upside down because the four-time major championship had somehow maneuvered to within one.

The highest of the highs then turned into the lowest of the lows. When Mickelson was not trying to make birdies, he was making birdies. Once he tried to make birdies, he made bogeys.

The unraveling began when he missed a 2-footer for par on the 11th hole. From there, Mickelson was never the same.

“There was nothing to it,” Mickelson said. “It was just a dumb mental error. I just lost focus there, and it hurts to throw shots away like that when I’m behind.”

Bogeys followed at 13, 15 and 16 and what looked like a potential Mickelson victory, turned into a challenge to finish second. That’s Lefty in a nutshell, entertaining to the bitter end.

“The putter let him down all week,” said Butch Harmon, oddly enough, swing coach for both Mickelson and Johnson. “He made a few, then down the stretch it just went away.”

Johnson’s Waterloo came in more dramatic fashion than Mickelson’s.

Ultimately, this won’t be remembered for being as big as Bunkergate at last year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. It won’t even be in the same ballpark as the meltdown last summer at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But Johnson threw away a chance at winning the Open Championship on the par-5 14th hole.

Standing in the middle of the fairway, Johnson hit his 2-iron second shot way right, sailing out of bounds. It was the first week all year that Johnson has carried a 2-iron.

Johnson had made birdie on No. 12 to get within two of the lead and birdie on No. 14 – the only true birdie hole remaining in the round – would’ve put immense pressure squarely on Clarke’s broad shoulders. But Johnson pressed and tried to hit a low runner up the fairway in hopes of it rolling onto the green.

“Out here you don’t really get too many opportunities to make birdie so it was definitely a go situation,” Johnson said. “If I had to do it over again I’d hit a 3-wood instead.”

Sure, there was a stiff wind, but that shot was unacceptable, especially when you’re playing alongside Clarke, the guy you’re trying to beat. It was essentially a match-play situation and Johnson blinked first.

“It’s a tough shot,” Harmon said. “You’re trying to chase a low hot iron up there and bounce it up on the front of the green and you just don’t pull it off. He’s trying to win.”

These are the opportunities that Americans must seize. A country the size of Nebraska is dominating professional golf. If three people from the Cornhusker state won three of the last six major championships, it’d be one of the biggest sports stories in the U.S.

Instead, one of the biggest stories in golf is that, in Tiger Woods’ absence, Americans cannot find a way to succeed in the game’s grandest stages.

Most players – from both the U.S. and internationally – say that it’s just cyclical, that the U.S. has been dominant before and will be again. That’s true. But, like Woods himself in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record, the longer you go without capturing the next major, the more difficult the quest becomes.

“You can’t go back and replay it,” Harmon said. “You have to take a positive from this.”

Perhaps. But Mickelson and Johnson both had prime opportunities to capture major glory and tied for second place, three shots behind Clarke, who bogeyed the last two holes. Before the week began neither man was on the radar, but they ended the week there and faltered. Meanwhile Northern Ireland walked way with another major championship.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.