Mickelsons shot great but not the best

By John HawkinsApril 14, 2010, 1:54 am
It was the defining moment of the 74th Masters, the biggest shot in a week that began with hearty storylines and never let up. A 6-iron from the straw just right of Augusta National’s 13th fairway, a pair of Georgia pines framing Phil Mickelson’s line to the green, his first lead of the tournament coming just minutes earlier after a birdie at the par-3 12th vaulted him one ahead of K.J. Choi.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson hits his approach shot from the 13th hole Sunday at Augusta. (Getty Images)
Those circumstances, plus Philly Mick’s mixed history in terms of pursuing the aggressive route to a victory, all played a role in amplifying the importance of the 6-iron. A miss short would virtually guarantee no better than a par, and if his ball tumbles into Rae's Creek, the subsequent mess could have been enough to knock Mickelson out of contention. If he plays it ultra-safe, he’s looking at a difficult two-putt, and quite possibly, ground lost to those on his tail. There is very little room right of the pin, a troublesome bail-out left.

The window of opportunity was small, the margin for error both broad and severe. “A great shot is when you pull it off,” Mickelson would say upon claiming the green jacket for a third time in seven years. “A smart shot is when you don’t have the guts to try it.”

As impromptu quotes go, it was a line as brilliant as the shot itself, spoken by a man whose outrageous skill is accompanied by an abnormally high level of self-confidence, which is derived from his ability to assess situations quickly, clearly and objectively. Mickelson’s decision to hammer that 6-iron off a quirky lie from 207 yards – a shot that seemed to hang in the air for most of the afternoon before stopping about 4 feet from the flag – was a huge risk with a massive reward, a stroke of genius some would instantly describe as one of the greatest in golf history.

There’s just one little problem.

He missed the putt.

Mickelson had a 4-footer for eagle and walked away with a birdie, the same score as fellow competitor Lee Westwood, who also played his second from the right trees, laid up, then knocked a wedge to 10 feet. Much like Corey Pavin’s approach on the 72nd hole of the 1995 U.S. Open, Lefty struck one of the most memorable and important shots of the modern era, then forgot to blow out one of the candles before slicing the cake.

You say it doesn’t matter? How can it not? In a game where score is the only barometer of success and failure, the historic value of Mickelson’s second at the par-5 13th is at least partially compromised by his overall result on the hole, which should have been a 3 but was instead a 4. Otherwise, we’re talking about sheer artistry, which requires a panel of judges similar to those in ice skating and “Dancing With the Stars.”

The greatest shots of all-time must directly affect the balance of competition, especially when they occur late in the game. Tiger Woods’ chip-in from behind the 16th green at the 2005 Masters is a perfect example. From a spot where he should have made a 4 and might have made a 3, Tiger made a 2. Was it a lucky birdie, as Woods himself admitted? Absolutely, but the ball still fell in the hole, and good for him that it did, because Woods bogeyed the 17th and 18th before overcoming Chris DiMarco in a playoff.

If Tiger loses, is the chip still remarkable? Sure, but it doesn’t rank as highly on the Greatest Ever list, regardless of where you have it now. Speaking of which, Y.E. Yang’s hybrid over the trees on Hazeltine’s 18th at last summer’s PGA was awfully good – it gave him the cushion he needed to defeat Woods, a historic triumph capped by a swing as clutch and productive as any you’ll find in any decade.

For my money, Larry Mize’s birdie chip to beat Greg Norman in 1987 remains the best shot in Masters history. Jack Nicklaus’ long iron nto the 15th, which led to an eagle and launched the Miracle of ’86, is no more than a half-length behind, followed by Tiger’s chip, Mickelson’s birdie putt on the 18th to beat Ernie Els in 2004 – a first Masters title for a guy who, at the time, was the Much Maligned One – and the 6-iron last Sunday.

Nobody in the Golf Channel newsroom howled louder than me when Mickelson’s stopped just right of the flag. Nobody groaned louder when the eagle putt slid past the hole.
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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.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”