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.
 
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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    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

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    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.


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    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."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    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.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    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.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    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."


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    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."