No 2 Fan Ful-Phil-Ment

By Mercer BaggsDecember 30, 2004, 5:00 pm
2004 Stories of the YearEditor's note: We are counting down the top 10 stories in golf for the 2004 season. This is Story No. 2.
Phil Mickelson wears the white hat. The public ' the majority ' sees him this way. They see him sign pictures and golf balls and programs and pieces of paper by the hundreds. They see him with his pretty wife and his pretty daughters. They see him with his goofy, permanent smile.
They see him win; they see him lose. They see how he handles both. They love him for this.
They want to be Phil Mickelson. They want the pretty family and the millions of dollars and the playing golf for a living. They want this wonderful life.
And since they cant be him, they want for him. They want for the man who interacts with them and makes them feel a part of this wonderful life. They want what he wants.
They got it on April 11, 2004.
They had seen this all before ' at the U.S. Open and at the PGA Championship and at this very Masters Tournament.
They had seen him in contention for a major championship. They had seen him with his left hand on the trophy, unable to grasp it fully with his dominant right hand. They had seen him fail, again and again and again.
But they hadnt seen him in this particular situation ' with a share of the lead with 18 holes to play.
They wondered: would this be any different? This was supposed to be a new Phil Mickelson, one no longer hell-bent on power, but on precision. A Phil Mickelson reprogrammed to win major championships.
They would hope for something different this time ' but they would believe it only when they could actually see it.
And so they watched.
They watched as he bogeyed the third hole and the fifth and the sixth on this Sunday. They saw him fall three down when Ernie Els eagled the par-5 13th. They closed their eyes and they thought: no, this will not be any different.
OK, Phil, just go ahead a dump a couple of balls in the water on 12 and 13 and lets end this failed experiment.
No, no, instead lets birdie 12 and 13 and make this a tournament.
Phil did this and reopened a sea of eyes. And even when Ernie birdied 15 to go up by two, those eyes ' the thousands in Augusta and the millions around the world ' were open, wide open to hope and possibility.
And Phil had this same look in his eyes. He, too, believed.
He birdied 14 after nearly holing his approach shot. And after failing to birdie the par-5 15th, he made a birdie from 20 feet on the par-3 16th. He was tied for the lead with two holes to play.
Ernie could not birdie 17 or 18. And he could not watch. The tournament ' the one he wanted to win equally as much as his very popular opponent ' was no longer on his clubs, and all he could do was go to the practice range, hit a few balls, hope for a playoff, wait and listen to the crowd.
The crowd would certainly let Ernie, and everyone as far away as Atlanta, know of Phils fate on the final hole.
After a par on 17, Phil piped a drive down the middle of the fairway on 18, leaving himself 162 yards to the pin. He then hit his approach shot ' just his 30th swing on the back nine this Sunday ' just beyond the flagstick.
They watched him as he walked up the final hole. They saw him wave and smile, and it was for them. And this putt, should it fall, would be for them as much as him, as well.
They all would have to wait for the result of this putt. But this was a good thing. Phils playing companion, Chris DiMarco, was mired in the front greenside bunker. He would excavate his ball onto the green, almost on top of Phils marker ' but just beyond.
So Chris would have to putt first. Everyone watched, but none more studiously than Phil. Chris would miss left; Phil would make sure he did not.
Phils putt was said to be distanced at 18 feet between ball and hole. But its importance was immeasurable.
How could you measure the worth of major championship ' for a man who had never won one; for a man who had played in 47 of them; for a man who had worn this losing label like a scarlet letter?
And so they watched. They watched as the ball left from the putter. They watched as it tracked towards the hole. They watched as it tried to escape on the left side. They watched as it was pulled inside by the cups edge.
They exploded before the ball could clang the plastic bottom. They screamed and hugged and watched as their man jumped in the air and threw his hands much higher.
And in the distance, Ernie Els closed his eyes and shook his head. He knew. He didnt have to see.
They watched as Phil hugged and kissed his pretty wife and his pretty daughters. They watched as he put both arms inside a green jacket. They watched as he held aloft the replica of the Augusta National clubhouse.
He had always promised them that this day would come.
They had finally seen what they had always wanted to see. And it was better than they ever could have imagined it to be.
Related Links:
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”