Merion hands Mickelson more Open heartbreak

By Joe PosnanskiJune 17, 2013, 11:46 am

ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson stood over his ball at the bottom of the hill on the last hole at Merion, and he tried to visualize the miracle shot. He has always been able to do this: Visualize the miracle,  and then do it in real life. No player in a generation, probably none since the swashbuckling Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, has tried so many audacious and ridiculous and fabulous shots as Mickelson and pulled them off. Flop shots, hooks around trees, slices from pine straw, chip-ins from everywhere.

This time, Mickelson needed the miracle shot. He had no other option. Mickelson trailed Justin Rose by one. He needed birdie on a hole that had not been birdied by anyone in two days. He needed to knock the ball in from off the green, some 30 yards away. Before he set up, he stood over the ball without a club, and he practiced a swing. Then he looked out at the green for a long time, as if watching an invisible ball roll toward the hole. Yes, he looked for a long time, and then tried the real thing.

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In real life, his ball did not go in the hole. And Rose won the U.S. Open.

Well, that’s not exactly right. Rose did not win the U.S. Open. He endured it. He survived it. That was the only way you could win at Merion. Rose might be one of the best ball-strikers in the world, but he made five bogeys on Sunday, had two putts on the lip that somehow dropped in and hit a breathtaking 4-iron on the 18th hole from almost exactly the same spot where Ben Hogan had once hit the most famous 1-iron in the game’s history. That left him at 1 over par. That made him the champion.

It should be said, even Rose’s brilliant shot on the 18th didn’t stay on the green.

Well, it was rough like that all week. There was talk coming into Merion that the golf course was too easy for a U.S. Open, especially after buckets of rain soaked it down and, supposedly, softened it up. The betting line was that it would take 8 or 9 under to win the Open, and some media types wondered if players might set scoring records.

“You must be very good golfers,” the world’s No. 2-ranked player, Rory McIlroy, said to those media members after Merion knocked him around. He finished 14 over par. The No. 1-ranked player, Tiger Woods, finished 13 over, his worst four-round score in relation to par ever at a major championship. Steve Stricker, as steady a player as you will find anywhere, hit a ball out of bounds and then, one shot later, hit another one out of bounds, this one a shank that seemed to come from right out of your local driving range.

“The pins were brutal,” an exhausted Hunter Mahan said.

“It was tricky out there,” Rickie Fowler said.

“Well, that was fun,” Ian Poulter tweeted sarcastically after finishing 11 over par.

But, at the heart of the story, as it often goes at the U.S. Open, was Phil Mickelson. It seems strange, given his daring style and birdie-infused game, that he has had so many tangles with the U.S. Open. The Open is supposed to lean toward the straight hitters, the grinders, the par-makers. And yet, time and again, Mickelson has put himself in position to win the national championship.

And time and again – heartbreak.

This week, maybe for a while, it looked different. He seemed loose. He did not even practice, instead going back to California to see his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation. He flew back, arrived in the wee hours of the morning Thursday, went right to the course and promptly shot 3 under to take the lead. He looked good.  He felt good. He talked about how much he loved the course. He talked about how well he was hitting it.

The stars seemed aligned. Even on a rough day like Friday, Mickelson kept it together and birdied the final hole to leave with good feelings. On Saturday, a day he missed chance after chance, he maintained the lead. Sunday was his 43rd birthday. Sunday was Father’s Day. Heck, even sportswriters were praying for Mickelson.

Then, on the 10th hole – after a rough start – Mickelson hit one of those miracle shots. He holed out from 76 yards for an eagle that gave him the lead. Madness. Mayhem. Mickelson leaped in the air – higher than he jumped when he won his first Masters in 2004 – and raised his arms above his head. He had finished second at the U.S. Open five times, an unkind record. Now … finally … maybe …

“It would have changed the way I look at this tournament entirely,” Mickelson would say.

But Merion – oh, Merion. This just wasn’t the place for fairy tales. This was a place where putts slid by, where balls buried in the rough, where out-of-bounds lines seemed to line the fairways. If Merion could talk, it would sound like Darth Vader. If Merion could drive, it would cut you off in traffic. If it were a cartoon, it would be Jessica Rabbit. “I’m not mean,” it would say, “the USGA just made me that way.”

And so, in the last eight holes, Phil Mickelson alternated between disasters and disappointment – on the 12th hole he thought he’d made the birdie putt but he didn’t. On the 13th, he pulled the wrong wedge – he had five wedges to choose from – and hit his shot over the green, a terrible shot that led to a terrible bogey. On the 14th, he made a death-defying par with the only longish putt he sank all day. On the 15th, his ball found the green, but this being Merion he STILL had to chip the ball because of the angle, and he made bogey again. On 16, he was sure he made his birdie putt, but the ball did not go in.

All the while, Philadelphia fans groaned with him and ached with him and crashed with him.

“If I had won today,” Mickelson would say when it ended, “or if I ultimately win, I’ll look back at the Opens and think that (finishing seconds so many times) was positive. …”

And here Mickelson paused for a second. He has always said, with a great deal of certainty in his voice, that he will win the U.S. Open someday. But, now – lost in the sadness of the moment – he did not sound so positive. He’s 43. Time runs away. And Merion took a little bit of his heart.

“If I never get the Open,” he continued, “then I’ll look back and think … every time I think of the Open, I just think of heartbreak.”

In the end, Mickelson went to the 18th hole needing birdie, and he drove the ball into the rough. His second shot ended up short of the green, and that was where he stood and tried to visualize a miracle shot. He took that imaginary swing. He watched that imaginary ball.

Only he knows if, in his imagination, the ball dropped in the cup.

My guess is no. The ball did not drop for Mickelson at Merion, not even in dreams.

Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose shot a 7-under 65 Saturday to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship.

The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for an overall 15-under 201. The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

Rose is chasing his second Race to Dubai title but leading rival Tommy Fleetwood is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit crown, is tied for 13th on 10 under.

Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”