2013 a good year for the good guys

By John FeinsteinDecember 4, 2013, 2:47 pm

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Or, with all due respect to Charles Dickens, it was a year that tested the patience of those who love golf and, ultimately, rewarded those who were most deserving.

The year produced four worthy major champions: Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Tiger Woods won five times but was again shut out in the majors. Rory McIlroy’s year was a complete washout for 11 months. Like the PGA Tour, he began 2014 early with a win on the first day of December that may prove to be a starting point for the new beginning he clearly needs. Jordan Spieth became the latest ‘it’ kid with a breath-taking rookie season – much of it taking place while he was still a teenager. Inbee Park won the first three women’s majors of the year and almost didn’t win Player of the Year under the LPGA’s points system.

There was endless talk about anchored putters, perhaps the all-time “inside-baseball” story in sports history, but one that seemed to consume people in golf for a large chunk of the year.

Vijay Singh sued the PGA Tour after it decided NOT to suspend him for taking what was once a banned substance. One can only imagine what he might have done if the Tour had suspended him.

The Tour unveiled its new wrap-around schedule, beginning the 2013-14 season about 15 minutes after the 2013 season ended. The new schedule has received mixed reviews. Then again, a lot of people still don’t know it exists. They are waiting to kick off the new season next month in Hawaii.

Hey, maybe commissioner Tim Finchem’s next goal should be to have two seasons going on at the same time.

As is the case in most years, the majors provided a large chunk of the drama and almost all the highlights. If Scott’s playoff victory over Angel Cabrera at Augusta National had been the only sublime moment of the year, it would have been a pretty good year. His victory was about as popular as any in recent memory, in part because he finally lived up to the huge potential he flashed years ago when he first came to the U.S. as a kid with a pretty swing and a smile that made women swoon.

But it was more than that. It was the putt on 18 in the rain and the putt in the gloaming on the 10th green to clinch the green jacket. It was also Cabrera’s classy thumbs-up gesture to Scott after he had stuck his second shot to within 12 feet to set up the winning putt.

If Cabrera’s thumbs-up was the classiest gesture of the year, then Rose pointing to the sky in honor of his father – on Father’s Day – after his last putt went in the hole on the 18th at Merion, was the sweetest. There was a lot of concern prior to Day 1 at the U.S. Open that Merion would play like PGA West and the cut would be 4 under par.

It didn’t turn out that way. Rose’s winning score was 1 over and for all the whining about the golf course set-up and the narrowness of the fairways, it was a wonderful Open and it did, without question, identify the best player that week. Mickelson almost wrote a fairytale ending when he began the championship a couple hours after returning from his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation in California, but two blown wedge shots late on Sunday did him in. Rose was magnificent down the stretch; Mickelson wasn’t.

In the movies, the guy who suffers that heartbreak somehow finds a way to come back before the closing credits to be a hero. It never happens that way in real life.

Except in 2013, when Mickelson did exactly that. Coming off what he readily admitted was the most heartbreaking loss of a career that’s seen its share of heartache, he played the most gratifying – and brilliant – round of his life on the last day at Muirfield to win the Open Championship.

Like a lot of American players, it took Mickelson a long time to develop an affinity for links golf. In fact, he dreaded the entire experience when he made the trip to the British Isles each summer. He didn’t like driving on the wrong side of the road; the endless rotas; the tiny showers or the food. For a long time, he would fly in at the last possible minute, grit his teeth all week and breathe a sigh of relief when he got back on the plane to go home.

That changed in 2004 when, in his 12th attempt, he finished third, the first time he was even close to being in contention. He began coming over early to play the Scottish Open and almost won at Royal St. George’s in 2011. With another chance this past July at age 43, he shot 66 on a cold, windy Sunday to blow by everyone and win by three shots.

Finally, there was Dufner at Oak Hill. Many believed his one chance at greatness had come and gone in Atlanta two years earlier when he let a five-shot lead melt away down the stretch and lost to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. But, going head-to-head the final day of the PGA Championship with Jim Furyk, he played an almost perfect ball-striking round and was in control on the back nine. While it was tough to see Furyk once again miss a golden chance at his second major, it was heartwarming to see Dufner bounce back after the kind of loss that often kills careers to become a major champion.

Bradley’s decision to turn back after leaving the golf course on that glistening August Sunday afternoon so he could be one of the first to give Dufner a hug coming off 18, made for a perfect ending to golf’s majors season.

McIlroy tied for eighth at Oak Hill, the first time all year he was even on the golf course late on Sunday at a major. The fact that a top 10 was considered a big deal for him was a clear sign of how difficult his year had been. From the minute he fired Chubby Chandler as his agent soon after winning the 2012 PGA, McIlroy couldn’t seem to put a foot right on or off the course.

He got very rich by signing with Nike – he wasn’t exactly poor pre-Swoosh – but struggled from the start with the new clubs, the newfound notoriety of being No. 1 and the added pressure of being Woods’ latest business partner. He played badly, and then acted badly when he stalked off the golf course at the Honda Classic in the second round when he was en route to missing the cut by a million.

Then he fired his new agents; got embroiled in various lawsuits; endured rumors about his relationship with Caroline Wozniaki and continued to look lost on the golf course most of the summer. If he hadn’t been on Tour since he was a teenager it would have been a sophomore slump.

Slowly, starting with the PGA, things began to get better. He had two top-10s overseas in November and then, on the first of December, he outdueled Scott in what was very much a road game, to win the Australian Open – shooting 66 that day and finishing with a walk-off birdie for the win. It was vintage McIlroy, circa 2011 and ‘12.

Regardless of when the official season, began, McIlroy’s win sent golf into the New Year on a high: four classy major champions to savor from last year and a 2014 that should bring a rejuvenated McIlroy; the drama of Mickelson going for a career Grand Slam at Pinehurst; Woods desperately seeking to break his majors drought; Spieth continuing to ascend and, to top it off, a Ryder Cup with Tom Watson captaining the U.S. in Scotland, the country where he is an adopted son.

A lot to look forward to. And a lot to look back on with a smile.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.