Phils Cup is Half Empty
When Phil Mickelson won four times last year and so rudely interrupted a couple of Tiger's streaks along the way, it almost seemed like the number one player in the world had a challenger of sorts. 2001, however, has given us reason to doubt. We forgave him this year at Pebble when the 3-wood bounced off the rocks at 18. We were somewhat amused at the Buick Invitational when Phil's double bogey was good enough to beat Frank Lickliter's triple in the playoff. We felt sorry for him at the Masters when what could have been a day of redemption over Tiger turned out to be a night filled with thoughts of simply what could have been. The emotional scar went deep, perhaps deeper than we imagined. His recent performances in New Orleans and at the The Colonial prove that.
In probably three or four of my most recent interviews with Phil dating back to the Byron Nelson more than a week ago, he has emphasized the fact that he's had a lot of opportunities this year, and hasn't cashed in nearly enough. He's not satisfied with just the one win he's garnered, and why should he be? At least three others were practically his before the back nine on Sunday, but something has changed. He doesn't have that same stare that had golf balls searching desperately for the bottom of the hole last year because he is experiencing an extraordinary lack of confidence.
On Saturday at the Colonial, he tried to convince the public that he was more than up to the challenge of winning the tournament. When asked if he felt comfortable being the hunted, he said 'I love being the hunted, bring it on.' At the time it seemed like maybe a new Mickelson was standing in front of us, but after watching Sunday's performance, it seems like the only person that he was trying to convince of his confidence was himself.
After blowing a four-shot lead in Fort Worth, Mickelson finally told the press that he had some issues, mental blocks I believe he called them. I just want to know WHAT has caused them. It's not like he hasn't gone for years without the dubious title of 'best player never to win a major.' That alone can affect your ego in the big ones, but now his despair has reached the 'not quite as big ones' - so to speak - the tournaments where he is almost always the favorite.
Some may speculate that the domination of Tiger Woods has left Phil feeling empty, almost vulnerable, any time that the world's number one player is in the field. Some may feel that his final round fall at the Masters was enough to shake his belief in himself for quite some time to come. Whatever the case, the bigger question is, how will he fix it? When I asked him at the Colonial what steps he would take to eliminate his mental block, he replied simply, 'Get into contention at the Kemper.' He probably will. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it.
One thing Mickelson HAS handled well, though, is the fans and media. After each and every draining Sunday finish, he has stopped to explain himself to the print and television media and he has satisfied nearly all his admirers with autographs regardless of his score. Throughout his tumultuous ride Phil continues to be a classy guy and that, we all know, is hard to do.
When will Phil Mickelson turn it around and regain his confidence? Share your thoughts.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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 Web.com 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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."