Rebound or More Rejection in 2004

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 2, 2004, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)If youre still trying to digest all that happened on the PGA Tour in 2003, expedite the process, because the official start of the 2004 season is just days away.
Let the debates and questionings begin.
Who among last seasons Player-of-the-Year candidates will again challenge Tiger Woods? Will veteran experience again trump youthful skill? Will we again be shocked and awed by our major champions?
Many of the questions to which we want answered this season are in relation to what we have most recently witnessed.
And such is the case for one of the more intriguing questions in 2004: Rebound or more rejection for Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and David Duval?
A year ago at this time, there was only one player in living creation, according to the Official World Golf Ranking, who was better than Mickelson. He was second on that list; Garcia was fourth; Duval 15th.
Then came 2003.
The trio played in a combined 63 PGA Tour events last season. They managed only nine top-10 finishes between them ' Mickelson had seven of those ' and missed 25 cuts ' Duval had 14 of those to complement two withdrawals.
Most importantly, they took the collar in the Wins department.
Mickelson started the year promisingly, with five top-10s in his first seven events, culminating in his third consecutive third-place finish in the Masters Tournament.
But after leaving the grounds of Augusta National, he failed to factor in any tournament, let alone a major championship. He only three times cracked the top 20, and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in 11 years. He also went 0-5 at the Presidents Cup.
His disappointing season was best summarized at the PGA Championship. Mickelson held a share of the 18-hole lead after posting a 4-under 66 at Oak Hill.
Poised to pull away from the field early on Day 2, his aggressive approach led to two double bogeys in a stretch of three holes. He shot 75 in the second round, and followed with 72-75 over the weekend.
Unfortunately for the immensely talented left-hander, his biggest headlines came from the things he did ' and said ' off the course rather than on it.
Mickelsons quip that Woods was the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment hes stuck with sparked a controversy.
He created another stir when he tried to pitch for the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens, who didnt offer the right-handed pitcher a contract after seeing his 68-mile-per-hour fastball.
If I can get my speed up to 85 mph, I wouldnt rule out trying this again, Mickelson said after not making the cut.
First, he may want to work on trying to straighten out the kinks in his driving, where he ranked third in distance and 189th in accuracy on the 2003 PGA Tour.
Baseball disillusionment aside, there is good news for Mickelson. He does have precedence for rebounding after a disappointing campaign.
The last time he went 0-for was in 1999. The following year, he posted four wins, three runner-up finishes and was second to Woods on the money list.
There was a time, not too long ago, that Mickelson would bristle at being second to Woods, but hed love to return to that Silver platform in the World Golf Ranking, as he enters 2004 in the 15th position.
'It was a tough year. I didn't really play to the level I expected to,' Mickelson said at the Skins Game.
'I'm really excited about next year,' he added. 'I'm looking forward to the Ryder Cup in Oakland Hills. I want to have a great year to get on the team, and play well.'
While Mickelsons slide was the most surprising of the three, Duvals was the most dramatic.
After claiming his first major in the 2001 British Open, the former world No. 1 suffered through a dismal 2002 season. Injuries and ailments attributed to a winless campaign.
But that was nothing compared to what he had to endure this past season, when dismal became abysmal.
Duval made only four cuts in 20 starts, with his best finish a tie for 28th. He missed the cut in his first three majors and had to withdraw after an opening 80 in the PGA Championship. He also had to withdraw from the Greater Hartford Open when he hit at least four balls out of bounds in a first-round 83.
He tried to compete in Novembers Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan, but again had to pull out due to injury after just seven holes.
A bad back and an inability to make the proper compensations in his swing because of it have been the most tangible reasons for his downfall. But the emotional and mental distress he has suffered over the past two years ' like the break-up with his fiance in early 2002 and a bout of vertigo this past year' may be his most prominent hurdles.
Still, he tries to keep a publicly positive attitude.
'I've had some tough days this year, some bad scores and some really tough days and some terrible feelings when I've been playing. But, you know, I go home and I have a ball and I still love to do it,' he said prior to the PGA Championship.
Unfortunately in this game, you know, you can't choose your obstacles. In this life you can't choose your obstacles. So I have some pretty good obstacles to overcome at this moment.
It has been reported the Duval is now engaged to be married. Hopefully, this will help right the ship in his personal and professional lives.
He enters this year ranked 242nd in the world.
Similarly to Duval, Garcia struggled with his swing in 2003. But unlike his physically beleaguered counterpart, Garcia did so due to purposeful alterations.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old, under the watchful eye of his father, Victor, entered some mechanics into his natural, lagged movement into the ball.
It took a while for the emotional Spaniard to become completely comfortable in the change. His born ability helped put him in contention early in the U.S. Open and late in the British Open, but he was unable to sustain consistency for four full rounds.
At the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational he held a share of the first-round lead after a 64, but backed it up with a 76. Likewise, at the Masters he opened in 69-78; at the U.S. Open 69-74; and at the WGC-American Express 65-73.
He led the Dunlop Phoenix by three strokes heading to the final round, only to lose to Thomas Bjorn after shooting a Sunday 78.
'You've got to be patient. You've got to try as hard as you can definitely and just wait for it to change,' Garcia said at the American Express.
His final-round scoring average on the PGA Tour this season was 72.3, which was two strokes higher than that of a year ago.
His putting didn't pick him up when his swing let him down either. He dropped from 35th in that category in 2002 to 175th this season.
'If you're not putting well, it puts too much pressure on your game and you try to get it closer and closer and you don't want to miss greens. It's hard to play with that kind of atmosphere,' he said.
Garcia finally broke through with a lucrative victory in Novembers Nedbank Challenge, where he beat local favorite Retief Goosen in a playoff -- a win that was worth far more than the $1.2 million first-place prize.
He is now ranked 36th in the world. Thats 32 spots lower than his position a year ago at this time. However, his rise may be as sudden as his descent if the pieces of his swing puzzle are finally in place.
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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.