Getting Your Phil at Pebble

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 3, 2001, 5:00 pm
Phil Mickelson has plenty of players to contend with if he wants to win his second AT&T Pebble Beach title. But there's one in particular who everyone has an eye on.
Mickelson and Olin Browne share the 54-hole lead in Pebble Beach, Calif., at 14-under-par. The duo leads last year's runner-up, Vijay Singh, by two shots. Mickelson made his way to the top of the leaderboard by firing a six-under-par 66 at Pebble, while Browne tied the low round of the day, a seven-under-par 65 at Poppy Hills.
Overnight leader Matt Gogel followed his second-round 62 with a third-round 81 at Spyglass. He'll now need a Tiger-esque comeback to avenge last year's bitter defeat. For that matter, so too will Woods.
Tiger kept alive his hopes of becoming the first person since Mark O'Meara in 1990 to successfully defend his title by shooting a three-under-par 69 at Pebble Beach. Woods stands at eight-under-par for the tournament, six shots off the lead. Last year, he trailed by five with 18 holes to play.
Tiger stumbled out of the blocks on Saturday, bogeying his first two holes; including the short par-five second.
'I hit a great drive and then quick-sniped my second shot,' Woods said of his bogey on the second hole. 'I hit my third into the bunker and didn't get up and down.'
Woods collected his first birdie of the day at the par-three fifth, and then earned No. 2 at the sixth. At that point, he stood at five-under-par, where he remained until successive birdies at the 13th and 14th holes.
Woods officially climbed to within striking distance by carding his third birdie in five holes at the 17th. And with the par-five 18th remaining, it appeared certain as if he would enter the clubhouse at nine-under.
However, it wasn't to be. Woods' three-foot birdie putt made a horseshoe around the cup. Despite the missed opportunity, Tiger left the course knowing he was still in contention.
'I got a shot at it, but that last putt leaves a bad taste in my mouth,' said Woods. 'It's been like that all year. It's indicative of how my entire year's been so far.'
Putting has been Tiger's Achilles heel in 2001. He says, this week, it's not so much the stroke as it is the surface.
'I feel like I'm hitting it good,' Woods said. 'You just have to get the right bounces on the greens for the ball to fall.'
Woods knows, unlike in the third round, he'll have to get off to a good start on Sunday if he wants to catch the leaders. Knowing Tiger's history, he's still in it. Knowing Gogel's, he's not.
As he did in the final round in 2000, Gogel recorded a back-nine 40 on Saturday. However, unlike that of a year ago, he didn't post 31 on the front, but rather a 41.
Gogel's day at Spyglass began with a bogey at the par-five first. Following two more dropped shots at the fourth and sixth holes, disaster struck at the seventh.
Playing the par-five, Gogel's second-shot lay-up came dangerously close to a hazard. Gogel decided to play his third shot from the water's edge, but chunked it. This time, he was wet. He eventually made a double-bogey seven.
Gogel's misfortune wasn't delegated to the front nine. He lost four more strokes to par on the inward half, including a bogey at the last.
'I just didn't have it today,' said Gogel, who graciously signed autographs before leaving the course. 'It happens to everybody. You just take it on the chin. More good will eventually come than the bad in the short term.'
Though Gogel couldn't duplicate his second-round 62, Mickelson was able to mirror his Day-Two 66.
Once again, the putts fell for the lefty. Mickelson rolled in birdie putts of 15 feet on the third, 20 feet on the seventh and 35 feet on the ninth. In addition, he also stuck a few irons inside ten feet for four more birdies.
'What I have found is when putts fall in the hole I take a lot of pressure off my ball striking,' said Mickelson. 'I don't necessarily have to go for par-5s in two, I can wedge it up there in eight or 10 feet and make it.'
Mickelson is vying for his second Pebble Beach title in the last four years, but his first over 72 holes. In 1998, Mickelson won a 54-hole tournament in which the final round was postponed due to weather until August.
Browne doesn't share the same fondness for the Monterey Peninsula, as does Mickelson. Browne has missed five cuts in six prior starts. Of course, a bogey-free round of 65 can change one's opinion.
'I've never really liked playing here,' said Browne, whose only cut made resulted in a tie for 58th. 'It's a wonderful place, but the weather is so atrocious every year. It's such a joy to be here under these kinds of conditions. I'm loving every second of it this week.'
Browne's second round at Poppy Hills began with an eagle at the par-five 10th. Six straight pars ensued before he rolled in a 60-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th.
'That was my gift today,' he said. 'Happy New Year!'
For the day, Browne recorded five birdies and one eagle. He played the five par-fives in five-under-par.
Standing in the shadows, as he often seems to do, is Singh. The reigning Masters champion posted a solid round of two-under-par 70 at Spyglass. It wasn't spectacular, but it has him in solo third place.
'I'm a little disappointed, but quite happy with the position,' Singh said. 'I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I think I will do well.'
Last year, Singh started the final round one off the lead, but was passed - like everyone else - by a surging Woods. Singh tied Gogel for second place after shooting a Sunday 70.
Four players are currently tied for fourth place at 11-under-par, including Mike Weir, who shot 65 at Poppy Hills, Jerry Kelly, who shot 68 at Poppy Hills, Ronnie Black, who shot 70 at Pebble Beach, and Craig Barlow, who shot 67 at Pebble Beach.
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Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”

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So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

"This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

"I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

"Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

Hard to argue with the result.