Mickelson Derailed in Round 1

By Jay CoffinJune 18, 2010, 3:08 am

2010 U.S. OpenPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Phil Mickelson is golf’s ultimate roller coaster. For better or worse, he’s always spectacular, especially in major championships. With nearly every round there are ups, downs and everything in between.

Think of this year’s Masters when he smashed a 6-iron off the pine straw from 207 yards on the 13th hole to setup an eagle try that ultimately ended in a crucial birdie. Think 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot where Mickelson’s gambling, go-for-broke style down the stretch cost him a shot at winning his third consecutive major.

That’s what’s so perplexing about Mickelson’s opening round here at the 110th U.S. Open. It included none of the above. In fact, the most exciting thing to happen during Mickelson’s round didn’t even happen to him or playing partners Padraig Harrington and Y.E. Yang.

Phil Mickelson 1st round 2010 U.S. Open
Phil Mickelson failed to make a birdie in the first round. (Getty Images)
That’s right. For the first time in recent memory, Mickelson failed to produce a spectacular moment in shooting a 4-over 75. The man who wins or loses major championships by pulling off shots no one else will attempt, the man who is favored to win this week and could ascend to the No. 1 ranking with a victory, opened with a big thud here at historic Pebble Beach.

Mickelson, who turned 40 on Wednesday, began on the 10th hole and made six pars before making bogey on Nos. 16, 17 and 18. Lefty played cautiously off the tee on No. 16 but his drive was inches from finding the fairway bunker and his awkward, sidehill position forced him to hit out sideways and back into the fairway. On the picturesque par-3 17th, his tee shot found water left and he got up and down for a bogey 4. Then on the closing hole he tried to reach the green in two shots from 252 yards, but started the ball left of the green and it never hooked. The result was another water ball and a third consecutive bogey.

The final hiccup came on the fourth hole when, again, Mickelson was being cautious off the tee. Still, he found a bunker, then hit his second shot into another bunker and failed to get up and down.

Overall, Mickelson missed six putts from 10 feet or less, five of which were birdie looks. The score was the second-highest opening round for Mickelson at the U.S. Open since 1997 when he opened with 75 at Congressional. It was the first time Mickelson failed to make a birdie in a round since the first round of the Shell Houston open last year, a span of 24 events and 95 rounds.

“I usually find a way to make some birdies,” Mickelson said with his trademark sheepish grin. “But I had my opportunities. I mean I had a number of chances. There were a number of birdie holes out there and I had my opportunities, I just didn't make the putt.”

Mickelson shot the worst round of his group. Yang was 4 over at one point but scrambled to shoot 73. Harrington had difficulty finding fairways all afternoon but made two late birdies to salvage his round and shoot 73.

“I felt like scoring should’ve been a lot better,” Harrington said. “The greens weren’t firm, they were quite receptive. But I had to work. Scoring would be better if this wasn’t called the U.S. Open.”

The most interesting moment of the day came on No. 16 when Harrington was behind the green standing over a chip shot. Moments before he was to hit the shot a golf ball came flying from over the right grandstands, took a hard bounce out of the rough and onto the green, ending 6 feet from the hole. The ball came from 23-year-old, U.S. Open rookie Jon Curran, who blew his drive well left off the third tee. Curran took a drop off the front of the 16th green, hit his approach to the left fringe and got down in two shots for par.

There was a Phil moment waiting to happen on the third hole but it never developed. Mickelson blew his tee shot well left and, although it was several feet from a nasty hazard and behind a grandstand on the 17th tee, he still had an angle at the green with a wedge in his hand.

The vibe in the gallery was exciting. Collectively you could tell that people were expecting Lefty to make a birdie from the junk and get his round ignited. He delivered on the first part when he stuck his wedge shot to 10 feet as applause erupted. But, as was the case all day, the short stick cost him and he missed the birdie attempt.

“Obviously I didn't score well, but I thought I played pretty well, other than putting,” Mickelson said. “I just putted horrific. It's very frustrating for me to miss all those opportunities. I don't mind making a bad swing here, there, making a bogey here, there, it's part of the U.S. Open.

“It's just I've got to make birdies. It just was very frustrating for me.”

On a day with near perfect conditions, Mickelson was mostly conservative, hitting driver off the tee only five times on a course that isn’t long by today’s standards. But, since the round did not result in a good score you have to wonder if Lefty’s aggressive nature will get the best of him at some point. If playing conservatively didn’t work, perhaps playing more aggressively will.

“It's just frustrating because I came in here prepared,” Mickelson said. “I came in here ready. I hit a lot of good shots today. I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities and putted terrible.”

Bad news is he shot 75, good news is that he didn’t shoot himself out of the championship. For at least one round in this U.S. Open, however, the roller coaster that is Phil Mickelson was derailed.

 

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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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.