Hawk's Nest: Phil sends message with FedEx fatigue

By John HawkinsSeptember 8, 2014, 3:25 pm

Two of the game’s biggest names, two funny-looking withdrawals at halftime of the BMW Championship.

On the surface, the WDs are unrelated, although it’s hard not to remember how Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley formed such a potent duo two years ago in that biennial match-play shindig vs. the Europeans.

Mickelson’s explanation for pulling out was strikingly candid — almost defiant as an ode to the independent contractor: “My primary goal is to rest and prepare for the Ryder Cup,” he announced. Those words surely delighted the neckties in Camp Ponte Vedra, which can’t quite convince its own membership that everyone else’s events aren’t as big as their own.

The Euro bout is still three weeks off, however, and if Mickelson had been in contention at Cherry Hills, he obviously wouldn’t have flown home Friday night, which forces us to read between the lines. When you’ve won five majors, 42 PGA Tour events and earned approximately a half-billion doing it, a slim shot at another $10 million doesn’t rock your planet.

Rich people don’t buy lottery tickets.

Bradley, meanwhile, bailed over a Thursday rule violation that went unpenalized, a case of guilt trumping a plugged lie in the public eye.

“It’s eating me alive,” Keegs said of the incident, which involved free relief from an embedded ball on a greenside bank at the 18th. “I know [a Tour official] approved the drop, but I just can’t be sure it was the right spot.”

You can’t touch a man who overdoses on chivalry, especially when it costs you a spot in the Tour Championship — Bradley fell from 28th to 33rd by taking himself out of the tournament. Again, there are some murky circumstances here, as Keegs’ morality needle didn’t start spiking until a fan questioned him after the round over whether the ball was truly embedded.

I’m no criminal, but if I’m cleared of any wrongdoing before some dude claims he saw my ball bounce, I get eight hours of sound sleep and keep playing. Unless Tom Watson is the one who snitched on me, I don’t give up my leap at $10 million just because I got a favorable ruling on a pure judgment call.

As a combo platter, the Mickelson-Bradley departures represent cold, hard reality in a league where massive amounts of money are paid to the contestants and the pile of obligations keeps getting taller and thicker. Mickelson is 44 years old. All that is left for him to do is to add a touch of varnish to his legacy, and he’s never been particularly stellar in the Ryder Cup.

So he walks away from the third FedEx Cup playoff tilt to reintroduce himself to his children and fall in love with the game again. He has played five tournaments in the last six weeks. His kids have started school and he hasn’t been around. At this point, the man just wants to go home.

If you work in a factory or lay bricks for a living, you probably can’t comprehend it, but the grind of competitive golf comes with a point of diminishing returns. In 2012, Camp Ponte Vedra slotted a bye week between the BMW and Tour Championship. The Ryder Cup was played at Medinah that fall — those involved in both events went straight from Atlanta to Chicago. No big deal. Captain Watson is said to have asked the Tour for an off week after Atlanta, however, allowing his squad to catch its break before heading overseas. Fair enough, but with Tiger Woods removed from the scene, Mickelson struggling to stay motivated and the first three postseason gatherings producing little suspense, this year’s playoffs have produced the biggest collective clunker in its eight-year history.

Too many format flaws + decreased starpower = a big fat shortage of buzz. This wasn’t the year to go four consecutive weeks, but if there had been a bye, how many people would have noticed?

MICKELSON HAS NEVER been a fan of bunching the playoff events together. You may recall that in the inaugural postseason series (2007), he won the Deutsche Bank Championship, then announced on national television that he’d be skipping the BMW because he didn’t like the schedule.

“They don’t listen to me,” he said at the time regarding his more vehement protests to the Tour.

“We listen to him,” a vice president replied, “but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do what he tells us to do.”

It’s not just the big boys who aren’t crazy about the system. veteran player Bob Estes tweeted on Sunday, “From day one, I’ve said that the FedEx Cup playoff should only be three events. Four is one too many.”

He may not actually know it, but I’ve hired recently retired tour pro Joe Ogilvie to serve as commissioner of the Hawk’s Nest. Ogilvie is in charge of assessing front-burner topics and how the Tour handles those matters, and so I asked him if Mickelson and/or Bradley should be fined or reprimanded for scooting out on tournaments without a suitable cause.

“No, because [Tim Finchem] screwed the FedEx Cup anyway when he went four in a row,” came the response. “Bradley, you can’t fine in any circumstance. I give Finchem a failing grade this year. Dustin Johnson, the website [pgatour.com], sacrificing what is best for the FedEx Cup to the Ryder Cup without getting anything in return ...”

Gee whiz, Joseph. Congratulations. You’ve just won Employee of the Month.

SOMEBODY HAS TO play with Bubba. And in final analysis, that’s what led to Webb Simpson getting a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Simpson-Watson won their first three partnered matches at the 2011 Presidents Cup, triggering an American rout at Royal Melbourne, and Simpson did most of the heavy lifting.

The pair was also a success at Medinah, wrapping a couple of 5-and-4 triumphs around a tough loss to Ian Poulter/Justin Rose. Simpson’s even-keel demeanor is a fine complement to the high-strung lefty — the more Bubba accomplishes, the more irritable he seems to become, at least on the course.

Nobody’s going to come out and say it, but Watson can be a handful as both an opponent and a teammate. He’s hard on himself, harder on his caddie (Ted Scott) and quite willing to express his opinion on just about anything. Besides, it’s not like Simpson was buried beneath a few-dozen bodies on the U.S. points list. He finished 15th — two spots behind Bradley and 10 ahead of Hunter Mahan.

Skipper Tom Watson admitted he wasn’t fully aware of Simpson-Watson’s prior success until shortly before announcing his picks last Tuesday, which is a bit scary. Simpson’s 2014 was by no means awful, although he did miss the cut at three of the four majors and the Players.

A victory in Las Vegas last fall technically makes him a 2014 champion. Otherwise, there were four top-fives, all at weak-field events. I am of the firm belief that Captain Watson had his eye on experienced Ryder Cuppers from the very start — a 65-year-old iconoclast isn’t going to pick a rookie for a road game against an opponent that is an overwhelming favorite.

THAT WAS A different Billy Horschel who won Sunday at Cherry Hills. The old Billy used to yell at his golf ball on just about every shot, good or bad, displaying an animated streak that set him apart from a vast majority of his tour-pro brethren.

It’s funny how we watch a guy on TV one week and decide whether we like or dislike him primarily by his body language and behavior. My late mother was one of the kindest people to ever walk the earth — the apple falls miles from the tree sometimes — and a huge golf fan who just didn’t care for Davis Love III.

“He’s one of the most likeable people I’ve ever covered,” I told her more than twice.

“But he never smiles,” she would say. “He looks like he just got out of the dentist’s chair.”

Horschel definitely rubbed some golf fans wrong with his histrionics, but when I met him at the 2013 PGA Championship, I couldn’t have been more impressed. Nice kid, very respectful, and if he ever makes a Ryder Cup team, America will be the better for it.

Having gone through the transcripts of Horschel’s interviews at Cherry Hills, I’m surprised nobody asked him about the changes in his on-course demeanor. He was questioned repeatedly about the 6-iron he knocked into the hazard on the 72nd hole at the Deutsche Bank, which killed any chance he had of beating Chris Kirk, and for good reason.

That was a mistake no quality tour pro should make. It says something about Horschel’s toughness that he came back and won the very next week, but let’s not get carried away with his future. The last guy to do something similar was Kyle Stanley, and we haven’t seen him since.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."