Mickelsons Schedule Up in the Air

By Mercer BaggsNovember 14, 2002, 5:00 pm
Phil Mickelson has never had a problem putting his personal life above his professional one.
A year ago he skipped his title defense in The Tour Championship. In fact, he took off a full four months after the birth of his second daughter.
Next year hell again put family before finance and fame.
'We are expecting the birth of our third child in March. That rules out The Players Championship, said Mickelson, who added he was 99 percent sure such a scenario would take place.
But Mickelson fans can certainly get their fill of Phil prior to 2003. The lefthander plans on playing in three unofficial events, two of which will be contested against his biggest rival.
Mickelson and Tiger Woods are both in the Thanksgiving weekend Skins Game. Woods also invited Mickelson to compete in his own Target World Challenge for the first time. The two would have been teammates in the World Cup, but Woods pulled out, leaving Mickelson to play alongside Ryder Cup partner David Toms.
Given that Ive added tournaments here in the off-seasonthats going to delay my start on the tour next year until the Phoenix Open, Mickelson said at this years Tour Championship.
Phoenix is the third stop on tour next season, with the Bob Hope ' which Mickelson won this year ' the following week. Mickelson said he expects to play the Hope, but few things are certain right now.
Im not sure which tournaments I will play and how that will fit schedule-wise, he said. It will be more week-to-week than having a clear-cut schedule throughout the year.
Mickelson has played in at least 23 official events each of the last five years, and said he plans to reduce that number in 2003. One event he would add, however, would be the one contested at Doral, which like he is sponsored by Ford Motor Company.
I would expect the Ford Championship to be the final event for me until the birth and until a couple of weeks after, he said. I will play again most likely at either the BellSouth or the Masters, barring any unforeseen complications.
That would mean Mickelson would miss the Bay Hill Invitational, where he won in 1997 and has battled Tiger for the title each of the last two years.
This year, Lefty was again in contention until he bogeyed his final three holes. His demise started at the par-5 16th. Trailing by one, he pulled his tee shot into the right trees. With his ball on a deadpan lie and nestled against a twig, he tried to play a 4-iron under the limbs and over the water. The ball plummeted into the hazard, along with his chance of denying Woods a three-peat.
Mickelson was heavily criticized for his aggressive approach, but he made no excuses, saying then and now thats the only way to challenge Woods.
To beat him when he's in the lead is something very difficult to do, Mickelson said. He doesn't make mistakes when he's in contention on Sunday.
And because of that, Mickelson feels its necessary to be assertive and play full-throttle when competing against Woods. Its an approach that has yet to garner him any major titles, but one he will continue to implement.
Look at the way we've always thought the greatest player in the game attacked a major, which was Jack Nicklaus, Mickelson said. He always said he would wait and wait and let other people fall back, and he would be right there to get the trophy at the end.
That doesn't happen with Tiger any more. He doesn't make those mistakes. You have to go attack and make birdies and play some exceptional golf to win championships in which he's in the field.
It may not always be the most effective method, but its the one Mickelson loves to apply, and one he will always defend.
I would think that after 10 years, after 25 tournaments a year, four rounds a week ... you've seen me play roughly 1,000 competitive rounds, and every single one of them I play aggressive and attacking, Mickelson said. I would think we would just come to accept it, because I certainly have.
And if not for Woods, that style would be good enough to make him the games best.
Mickelson is ranked second in the Official World Golf Ranking ' behind Woods. Hes finished second on the PGA Tour money list each of the last three years ' each occasion behind Woods. Hes won eight times on tour over the last three seasons ' second only to Woods.
Much has been made of the relationship ' or lack thereof ' between the games top-two ranked players.
At this years Masters, Mark Calcavecchia, who is close friends with both players, was quoted in Golf Digest as saying: They put up with each other, but they aren't the best of friendsI think some of the things Phil says might rub Tiger a little the wrong way. Tiger might think [Mickelson] is a know-it-all and cocky.
Mickelson was incensed at the time, and reiterated at The Tour Championship ' where he and Woods played two rounds together ' that there is no bitterness between the two.
I keep saying it, but Tiger and I get along very well, Mickelson said. People just dont want to believe it.
Regardless of their level of friendship, Mickelson has proven to be Tigers most formidable foe.
The San Diego native has won 12 times over the past five years, six of which have come with Tiger in the field. Hes one of only four men (on 34 occasions) to knock off Woods when hes held the 54-hole lead in a tournament (2000 Tour Championship).
This year he won twice ' neither of which came at Woods expense - and made over $4 million for the third straight season. But there are improvements that need to be made in 2003.
I contended very much so at the Masters, U.S. Open, and had two wins at the Chrysler Bob Hope Classic and the Greater Hartford Open. So those two wins were nice, Mickelson said. I certainly would have liked to have won some more, so thats something Ill try to improve on.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.