Hawk's Nest: Phil's focus tested as Open approaches

By John HawkinsJune 2, 2014, 4:45 pm

Phil Mickelson’s date with destiny has been dramatically diverted due to a lack of discretion.

Less than two weeks before the most highly anticipated start of his storied career, Lefty’s long-lost pursuit of a U.S. Open championship was dealt a jarring blow Friday at the Memorial. There is no such thing as an insignificant visit from federal agents in regard to possible insider-trading violations, nor can the timing of such an occurrence be passed off as mere coincidence.

Mickelson has denied any wrongdoing in the matter, which also involves Las Vegas gambler William “Billy” Walters and investor Carl Icahn. At this point, any further attempt to read between the lines becomes an exercise in journalistic futility. As it relates to the competitive element, however, there is a ton of context to consider with the 114th U.S. Open looming just 10 days away.

• A T-49 at Muirfield Village means Mickelson has played in 13 tournaments this season without a top-10 finish – by far the longest such stretch of his career. From his first full year as a pro (1993) through 2013, Philly Mick never failed to pick up a top-10 on the West Coast swing. In 15 of those 21 seasons, he won at least once before the PGA Tour headed to Florida.

• In what amounts to a smidgeon of irony, Mickelson has gone winless for an entire season twice in his career, the first of which occurred in 1999 – the year Payne Stewart beat him on the 72nd hole of the inaugural U.S. Open at Pinehurst. It was the first of Philly Mick’s six runner-up finishes in the event, which elucidates all the drama surrounding next week’s shindig.

Still, Mickelson clearly was playing better golf heading into that U.S. Open than he is now.

• Lefty is expected to compete in this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, having told reporters, “As a player, you have to block out whatever is going on [away from] the golf course to focus on the golf course. It’s not going to change the way I carry myself.” One would expect nothing less from a man who has dealt with numerous distractive forces over the years.

• That said, Philly Mick’s other winless season occurred in 2003, when his wife, Amy, struggled through the difficult childbirth of their son, Evan, leading to her own serious health issues. Six years later, he would play an abbreviated schedule after his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2012, Mickelson missed his first cut in 10 starts at Torrey Pines upon news that his middle child, Sophia, had suffered a seizure the previous week.

There is a human being inside every high-profile athlete. More often than most, Mickelson has reminded us of that, in part because of his willingness to unveil himself to the masses, but also because his competitive shortcomings play an ample role in shaping his public profile.

He is loved because he has lost so many times. Because he doesn’t know how to run from adversity or hide from failure. And because five major titles and 42 PGA Tour victories make you very special, regardless of who wants a word with you after the second round of the Memorial or how many national championships you’ve fumbled inside the 10-yard-line.

Can Mickelson show up at Pinehurst next week and suddenly perform at the highest level, his career at the crossroads, his personal life potentially imposed by the dark clouds of scandal?

“If anyone can, he can,” a good friend of his told me Sunday night. “He’s amazing at putting things behind him. Just like a cornerback in the NFL, the last play never happened, if you know what I mean.”

Most of us do.

WE’VE ALL SEEN terrific golfers go to pieces with the game on the line, but I’ve never seen a 22-year-old Japanese kid bust his driver in anger on the 72nd hole, then birdie it to force a playoff, then fashion a Dubuisson-like par to win a tournament otherwise lost by the reigning Masters champ and the world’s top-ranked player.

What I found most impressive about Hideki Matsuyama’s first PGA Tour victory was the ease with which he decapitated the club after a shot that wasn’t even close to bad – and the total non-reaction he displayed while walking to his ball. The young man almost seemed amused by it all.

It led to this comically awkward (or awkwardly comical) exchange in the media center afterward:

Q: It didn’t look like you [banged] the driver that hard. Were you shocked when the head came off?

Matsuyama: I was really shocked, because I didn’t – I really didn’t hit it that hard.

Jack Nicklaus: If you look at the replay, he almost just dropped the club.

Matsuyama: Yeah.

Nicklaus: It was a little bit more [than a] drop, but it wasn’t a whack.

Matsuyama: Exactly how Mr. Nicklaus explained, that’s what happened.

So the kid gets big-time bonus points not only for winning Jack’s event, but for genuflecting at the altar and even getting the iconic tournament host to translate his thoughts. This is just a guess, but I’m thinking the only thing Nicklaus ever broke was a couple of hundred scoring records and Tom Weiskopf’s competitive spirit.

Now that I mention it, I do recall the Olden Bear leaving a couple in Hell Bunker at the 1995 British Open and not being real happy about it, but let’s not loiter in royal and ancient history. The fact of the matter is, Bubba Watson almost drove it into somebody’s swimming pool at the par-5 15th Sunday and made a double bogey, effectively killing any chance of picking up his third win this season.

Now Bubba’s a high-strung horse, but he did not snap the offending club, pink shaft and all. He just never recovered. Matsuyama drove it in the 18th fairway but still executed his driver in much the same way King Henry VIII eliminated two of his wives. You’ve gotta love a guy who wins the Memorial and gets away with murder at the same time.

DON’T GET ME wrong. I enjoy watching Bubba play golf as much or more than I enjoy watching anybody. When he hits one of those boomerang hooks with a pitching wedge from 184 yards, as was the case at the par-3 12th Sunday, Watson’s fearlessness and talent become so evident that you half-wonder why he doesn’t win every tournament he enters.

Then, perhaps 10 minutes later, you catch a glimpse of the Bad Bubba. The guy with rabbit ears, the dude who snarls at every 8-footer that doesn’t go in, the gifted child who has turned blame deflection into an art form. Maybe Watson has won two of the last three Masters because he knows he can’t misbehave there.

The well-mannered galleries offer no friction, and Bubba bears down. He plays golf, and for the most part, he plays nice. Unfortunately for Watson, almost every other PGA Tour stop has become a Baba Booey convention. This has led to a number of relatively minor skirmishes with faulty photographers and rowdy fans.

More significantly, it has led one of the game’s most skilled ball-strikers down the beaten path. As my colleague, Ryan Lavner, points out in the most recent installment of After Further Review, Watson has won just twice in nine attempts when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead – he’s 0 for 5 when having that lead to himself.

Tiger Woods can win angry; it’s something I’ve seen a couple-dozen times. Hideki Matsuyama? Anger was his best friend Sunday, and he’s got both the trophy and the shrapnel to prove it. Bubba Watson? He needs to chill. Those boomerangs will come right back at you at the worst possible times.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”