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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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.