Despite Phil's struggles, one event can change everything

By John FeinsteinMay 10, 2014, 1:23 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – From the moment Phil Mickelson hoisted the claret jug on the 18th green at Muirfield last July, the entire golf world has known the next event that would truly matter to him was going to be the U.S. Open at Pinehurst this June.

It wasn’t as if Mickelson didn’t want to win every time he teed it up in the 11 months between last year’s British Open and this year’s U.S. Open, it was just a fact that everyone  including Mickelson  knew that a win at Pinehurst would put an exclamation point on his hall-of-fame career.

The Open begins in less than five weeks. Mickelson has played 19 times since his stunning win at Muirfield and has one top 10  a T-6 at the Barclays last August. Since the PGA Tour’s new wraparound season began in October, he has played 12 times, failed to play the weekend five times (three missed cuts, two WDs) and doesn’t have a top-10 finish.

His frustration may have peaked on Friday when he missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass, meaning he wouldn’t play the weekend at The Players for a second straight year.

“I don’t feel bad about the game,” he insisted afterward. “But mentally, I’m just soft right now.”

It’s hard to know exactly what that means. Players who have won 42 times on Tour, five of them majors, aren’t soft. They rarely admit that they don’t know exactly what to do next when they aren’t playing well. There’s always an upbeat lament of some kind: I’m hitting it well, I’m just not making any putts; I’m really close, it was just a couple of loose shots today; the swing-change I’m working on is just now starting to feel comfortable.

Mickelson talked like that in his pre-Players news conference. He had finally shown signs that the light at the end of this tunnel wasn’t a train last week in Charlotte, especially on Saturday when he lit up Quail Hollow with a 63 that put him into contention.

That’s the kind of number a great player shoots when he’s ready to go on a binge.

Except Mickelson went in the other direction, shooting 76 on Sunday  missing four putts inside 5 feet  and then following that up with 75-70 this week. On the bright side, he will get to spend Mother’s Day weekend with his family.

That was about the only good news for Team Mickelson on Friday. Mickelson spent most of Thursday and Friday on the golf course with that confused look he gets when he absolutely knows he doesn’t have it and can’t figure out exactly where to look for it.

Nevertheless, the story line hasn’t changed. Mickelson still has five weeks to get his act together. He has never been a model of consistency during his career. He doesn’t rack up top 10s so much as he racks up wins. His win at the British last summer overshadowed everything else he did throughout the rest of the year. In fact, it was generally regarded as THE performance of the year.

If Mickelson can win at Pinehurst, none of the ugly numbers he has put up since last August’s PGA will matter even a little bit. One of Mickelson’s strengths has been his ability to find his game when people are questioning him. He was 33 when he won his first major in 2004 at just about the time when people were starting to think he was one of those guys destined to make a lot of money playing golf but not make any history.

He came back after his wife Amy’s bout with breast cancer to dramatically win the Masters in 2010 and his British Open win  not to mention his near miss at Merion the month before  came when the whispers that he was done winning majors  especially while dealing with psoriatic arthritis, which is both chronic and incurable  were getting very loud.

That’s why looking at the Mickelson who has limped through this year, missing the cut at the Masters for the first time since 1999, and making a judgment on his chances at Pinehurst is probably a mistake.

He knows what that week means to his career. Even though he jokes that his six runner-up finishes in the Open should count for one win, he knows that winning there will put him in that very elite group of players who have won the career grand slam.

One thing that often gets missed about Mickelson because of the boyish smile he flashes even when he isn’t playing well, is how much he burns inside to win. No one can win as often as Mickelson has without having that burn.

There’s no doubt he left TPC Sawgrass angry and frustrated and knowing he has considerable work to do in the next 33 days. All the happy talk about driving the ball better than he ever has and about feeling good about his game is just that  talk.

Mickelson will do a lot of grinding the next few weeks. He will play at the Memorial and at Memphis, and he will take a couple of days once the golf course is closed to the public to go play Pinehurst.

He will practice 4-footers until he sees them in his sleep, and he will think and think  perhaps over-think  about how he needs to attack the redesigned Pinehurst. He knows he’s going to be asked a million times about the career slam and winning an Open and his memories of Payne Stewart and 1999.

Mickelson is ready for all that. His last three rounds of golf  the last one in Charlotte and the two here at Sawgrass  were aggravating because he thought he had found his game when he walked off the golf course last Saturday.

Whatever he found that day, he lost the next. That’s golf. When he walked away from the scoring trailer Friday evening he was still searching.

Fortunately, there’s still time to find what he’s looking for. The clock, though, is definitely ticking.

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Watch: Tiger birdies 3 of 4, then goes OB

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 8:30 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off in his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and another birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

And with this roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, the charge was officially on, with Woods just one back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and sniped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 to drop back to 11 under, three behind.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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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.