Phil the big winner in Ryder Cup triumph

By John FeinsteinOctober 6, 2016, 3:40 pm

Ever since his outburst two years ago in the post-Ryder Cup news conference at Gleneagles, Phil Mickelson has taken a lot of hits.

Some were deserved. Some were not.

But in the wake of the United States’ 17-11 thumping of Europe at Hazeltine, two things have to be said about Mickelson: He put himself on the firing line with his mouth and then he backed up everything he had said with his game.

“He’s our papa bear,” Zach Johnson said, months before the American victory. “He’s very protective of all of us.”

Johnson was trying to explain Mickelson’s angry take-down of 2014 captain Tom Watson in that now infamous news conference. Almost no one would argue that Mickelson’s timing was right or proper that evening in Scotland. He attacked one of golf’s legendary figures and, in doing so, he focused attention on himself – not the European team – which had played so superbly that weekend.

That said, even if Mickelson’s methods were heavy-handed, there was genius in his seeming madness. He wanted change – he’d wanted it for years – and he finally got it in the creation of the group formerly known as the task force, now only called a committee.

By any name, the new group did two important things: It allowed the players – six current players, two former Ryder Cup captains – to decide who should lead the U.S. effort at Hazeltine and, it looked at the European model and said, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, copy ’em.’

Mickelson, captain Davis Love III and everyone and anyone connected to the PGA of America, spent most of the week in Minnesota repeating the mantra, “The task force wasn’t just about this Ryder Cup.”

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More than anything, that was a defense mechanism in case things went wrong again. But there’s also some truth to it: The U.S. now has a plan going forward and the players will forever have that voice they believed they lacked.

No voice has been louder than Mickelson’s – from Gleneagles in September 2014, to the first task force meeting that December, to the days leading up to last week’s matches. He was a little bit like a WWE wrestler who takes on everyone in the building: first it was Watson; then it was the PGA’s captain selection system; then the media who made fun of the task force; then Hal Sutton and, finally, one last salvo directed at Watson: “To say, ‘Well, you just need to play better,’ that is so misinformed because you will play how you prepare.’”

That final shot across Watson’s bow went almost unnoticed because it came at the end of Mickelson’s diatribe on Sutton, when he insisted that Sutton had set he and Tiger Woods up “to fail” in 2004 because he didn’t give them enough warning that they were going to play together and, thus, not enough time to practice with each other’s golf balls.

Mickelson never did explain why he and Woods also lost that week or lend any credence to the notion that when partners don’t speak to one another for 36 holes, it isn’t really a positive. If the victory this past weekend was because the players were so close and a family, then wouldn’t two guys barely speaking to one another likely contribute to a defeat?

This was a different U.S. team. There wasn’t one mention all week of the players bonding through ping-pong. That they were close and got along was a given. Even the once reticent Woods, in his background role as vice captain, seemed to enjoy himself. Bubba Watson asked to be added as a last-second vice captain and then reveled in the role.

Much of the credit for that should go to Love, who, in his own way, is the Arnold Palmer of his generation. He doesn’t have Palmer’s flair or swashbuckling style, but he is universally loved and respected. If you ask Love to talk about his proudest moments in golf, he will always bring up the 1996 Presidents Cup team meeting when U.S. captain Palmer was telling his players how important it was to connect with fans, with the media and with people in general.

“Davis,” he said, pointing a finger at Love, “gets it.”

When Love tried to tell that story on Golf Channel's “Morning Drive,” the day after Palmer died, he choked up and could barely get through it.

Mickelson though, has always been a controversial figure. He has been compared with Palmer, too, because he does have Palmer’s flair and style and because fans absolutely adore him. That wasn’t always the case in the locker room when he was younger and hasn’t always been the case with the media because of his occasional tendency to throw people under the bus – not to mention the U.S. government.

But Mickelson tends to win people back because he is inherently honest; because he’ll admit to a mistake and because he never pulls the, ‘I was quoted out of context,’ dodge. He says it and either stands behind it – right or wrong – or, in the case of Sutton, concedes that he shouldn’t have gone where he went. He never said his explanation was wrong, just that he shouldn’t have brought it up 12 years later.

Now though, Mickelson is a hero and no one can say he blundered into it. He put himself directly in front of the firing squad and heard, ‘ready, aim …’ as he stepped to the tee on Friday morning. Then he went out and turned it all around. He got a little bit lucky when Rory McIlroy played his worst match of the week and Andrew Sullivan played like what he was – a scared-half-to-death Ryder Cup rookie – allowing he and Rickie Fowler to win a match they probably should have lost. Then he split two matches on Saturday as the U.S. built a crucial but nerve-inducing (given the memories of Medinah) three-point lead.

Sunday, though, was Mickelson’s crowning moment – even though he only halved his singles match with old nemesis Sergio Garcia. Both men played brilliantly – Mickelson had 10 birdies and one bogey; Garcia nine birdies.

It is remarkable sometimes how Mickelson brings out the best in opponents: Justin Rose even commented about that to him after their singles match in 2012 – and that was before Rose outplayed him down the stretch at Merion in 2013. Henrik Stenson became Ben Crenshaw on the greens at Royal Troon this summer, meaning Mickelson shot 65 on the last day of a major championship and lost ground because Stenson shot an otherworldly 63. On Sunday, Mickelson shot 63 and still didn’t get a win because Garcia matched him.

But when the day was over, Mickelson had won. He had put his putter where his mouth had been and the U.S. had a victory it will revel in for the next two years. The fact that Europe had six rookies on the team – four of whom combined to go 1-8 – and the fact that Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer went 1-6 doesn’t really matter. As the late, great Jim Valvano once said, “A W is a W and an L is an L, no matter how you explain it.” The U.S. finally got a W on Sunday.

Because of the construct of his team, Darren Clarke was in an almost impossible position, trying to win a Ryder Cup with six effective players. McIlroy even admitted after his loss to Patrick Reed – in as electric a singles match as you’ll ever hope to see – that the weight of the entire weekend may have worn on him a little bit mentally.

That wasn’t excuse-making, that was fact. On the other hand, all 12 Americans scored at least one point and Reed and Brandt Snedeker were nothing short of amazing.

But this was Mickelson’s win, his finest hour. You can point to all the other factors that led to the American players pouring champagne into each other’s mouths on Sunday, but when all is said and done, this win – perhaps more than any other in his Hall of Fame career – is the one he will cherish most.

He’s entitled.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''