Crowds and Control

By Mercer BaggsAugust 12, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 PGA ChampionshipSPRINGFIELD, N.J. ' He nods his head more than a detached man on a bad date. He gives a mock tip of the cap more often than a doorman at The Plaza. His smile is more present than controversy around Terrell Owens.
 
He is Phil Mickelson. He is leading the 87th PGA Championship. And he is loving every minute of it.
 
Phil Mickelson
As Phil Mickelson went lower and lower with his scores on Friday, the crowd noise kept getting higher and higher.
Mickelsons performance is only half of the reason hes flashing that big, goofy grin up and down the fairways of Baltusrols Lower Course. From tee to green, green to tee, swing to swing, Mickelson is being bathed in applause and appreciation.
 
Phils got em. Hes got em right in his hip pocket. Fans cant get enough. They absolutely love this guy. They run in between shots to position themselves for his next strike, creating clouds of lingering dust in their wake. They high-five one another when he makes a birdie. And they repeatedly scream his name.
 
Man, do they scream his name.
 
Come on, Phil! they shout. Make birdie, Phil! they yell. Its your time, Phil! they implore. Phil! Phil! Phil! The name echoed through the oaks, and between the ears.
 
Mickelson is warmly received in every tournament in which he competes. But it feels a little more personal during a major championship. Particularly one that is held in the New York area.
 
Mickelson has been a fan favorite in this neck of the Union since nearly pulling off his first major triumph at Bethpage in 2002.
 
Of course, it didnt happen back then. But that was one of the reasons patrons were rooting him on ' it never happened for him.
 
He was Hard-luck Phil; Star-crossed Phil; Poor old Phil; and Major-less Phil.
 
That all changed when he finally won the 2004 Masters. He was no longer the lovable loser; he was a major champion.
 
All those loyal rooters who stuck by his side through thin and thin celebrated that victory as if it was their own. And in a way it was.
 
Mickelson connects with the gallery unlike any other player, save for perhaps John Daly. He and Daly are by far considered to be the most human athletes ' OK, lets not call those two athletes ' players in the game.
 
They make eye contact with their fans. They talk to their fans. They sign autographs for their fans. Put simply, they acknowledge their fans. And thats what a fan most wants ' a connection.
 
Fans also love a winner, particularly one who has lost for so long.
 
One of many knocks on Mickelson was that he was always overly aggressive. That he had no control. And that this wild, go-for-broke approach ' the same one that seemed to work pretty well for Arnold Palmer, mind you ' would never work for him. Not in a major. Not in a hundred majors.
 
They were right in a way; Phil did have to tailor his game to fit major demands, and he did have to devise a plan of attack directed specifically for these four elite events.
 
But he swears that this is not a new Phil, just a slightly adjusted version of the one weve always known. Hes not being more conservative, he says; if anything, hes just being more controlled, which he believes allows him to be more aggressive.
 
It makes sense in his mind.
 
By hitting a right-to-left fade ' a soft cut, as he calls it ' he is able to temper his distance off the tee by 20 to 25 yards. This allows him to hit more fairways, which allows him to target pins more often than if he was in the rough.
 
Hes using this swing on every tee shot at Baltusrol, even on the holes that are better suited for a left-handed draw. He last did his One Trick Pony routine at Augusta in 2004.
 
That worked out pretty well for him. And its doing the same yet again.
 
Mickelson is a major champion. But only one time over. In a recent Sports Illustrated poll, he received votes from some of his peers as the games biggest underachiever ' this in relation to a guy who has won 26 PGA Tour events. That just goes to show the incredible level of talent this guy has, and what is expected of someone with such a gift.
 
Mickelson expects to win another major. Soon. Maybe this week. Long before he won the Masters, he told anyone who was willing to listen that he had a grand plan for winning not just one, but multiple major titles.
 
David Duval spent his professional career stalking a major kill. And when he bagged one, it was his drive that died. He never looked long term.
 
Mickelson did, and still is.
 
The key word this week is: control.
 
Mickelson has talked repeatedly about the need to control his ball off the tee. His instructor, Rick Smith, said after Fridays round, Hes got total control of what hes doing right now.
 
Smith said he would love to see a Pebble Beach situation, referring to Tiger Woods 15-stroke runaway victory in the 2000 U.S. Open.
 
Mickelson, who leads by four, isnt looking that far ahead. Hes focused entirely on the present.
 
When he made double bogey on the par-4 first, his 10th hole of the day, fresh off a birdie-eagle run to close his opening nine holes, Mickelson didnt panic. He didnt try to get back those two strokes on the very next hole ' in fact, he missed a 6-footer for birdie at No. 2.
 
Instead, he remained calm and trusted everything that he has been working on since the Open Championship, and he made three birdies to just one more bogey coming home.
 
He remained controlled.
 
And right now, Mickelson is not just in control of his game; hes in complete control of the tournament.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Scores - 87th PGA Championship
  • Photo Gallery
  • PGA Championship Video Vault
  • Full Coverage - 87th PGA Championship
  • 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.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    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 also one shot off 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 and Shanshan Feng 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.''


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.''