Mickelson (69) stays hot despite wind at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2016, 10:17 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Locks of Phil Mickelson’s hair were flapping in the strong, cold winds cutting across PGA National early Thursday morning at the Honda Classic.

Flagsticks were doing the rumba.

It was blowing hard enough to ground the Egyptian geese huddling down in the grass on the Champion Course.

The wind was blowing shots and even putts off course, but it couldn’t blow the smile off Phil Mickelson’s face.

With a 1-under-par 69, Mickelson made a solid start in tough conditions. He was T-5 when he walked out of scoring near the end of the morning wave. More than anything, Mickelson was pleased with the way his new swing changes held up in all the crosswinds.

“It’s been really fun for me to come out and play, because I know that I’m going to strike it well,” Mickelson said.

There was no faking it around the Champion Course in the opening round. With winds ripping up to 20 mph, any flaws in a player’s ball-striking were going to be exposed. That’s the big test Honda offers Mickelson this week. These changes Mickelson is working on with his new swing coach, Andrew Getson, are going to be tested more than they’ve been tested in any other event this year.

“It was very, very challenging,” Mickelson said. “I felt very confident working it into the wind and did it a number of times today. The ball-striking took a lot of pressure off my short game. To keep it around par, it was a good first day.”

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Mickelson walked away from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am disappointed with a second place finish after missing a 5-foot putt at the last that could have sent him into a playoff, but he left eager for another opportunity. This new swing has him convinced he’ll be giving himself a lot more chances to end a winless spell that dates back to the summer of 2013.

“I just can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow, because I know I can get it back under par,” Mickelson said. “I’m having a lot of fun playing right now, because I’m starting to play with ease and hit some shots that I’m trying to hit.”

Mickelson hit 7 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation on Thursday but never got himself in all the trouble lurking at PGA National. With his birdie at 18, his ninth hole of the day, he grabbed sole possession of the lead. His putter failed him at the second hole, where he missed a 4-footer for par, and again at the sixth, where he three putted.

“The crosswinds actually push [a putt] an inch or two,” Mickelson said.

While it’s difficult to imagine Mickelson, 45, playing without confidence, even through his last 34 starts without a victory, there has been angst over his swing. A lot of it, he confesses.

“The last year or two, I would show up at a course, and I was just trying to find something,” Mickelson said. “I would be out on the course, and I didn’t know which way the miss was going to be. It could be left. It could be right. It caused a lot of frustration knowing that I’m able to hit these shots but not pulling them off. Caused a lot of anxiety.

“Now I show up to the course, and I’m very relaxed. I’m calm and fairly confident, because I’m able to hit a number of really good shots, and then the ones I miss a little bit, I’m able to control and know which way I’m going to miss. And it’s usually OK.”

Ball-striking gets a supreme test at PGA National, where there is so much trouble, so many forced carries over water. Padraig Harrington, the defending champ here, said the Champion Course is like a major championship test.

“It’s a really good test, because it forces you to work it back into the wind on certain shots,” Mickelson said.

The winds were up with the sun and Mickelson’s early tee time Thursday, and he was ready for the challenge.

“He opened up at 7:45 with two of the purest shots I’ve seen him hit, to the 10th, that was playing so long,” said Adam Scott, one of Mickelson’s playing partners. “He made a lovely 3 and that set the tone for the day.”

After driving it 305 yards through a crosswind with his opening tee shot, Mickelson carved a 4-iron into the wind to 10 feet to set up his birdie. It was one of only six birdies in the first round on that difficult 508-yard par 4.

“A good way to start,” Mickelson said.

Like Mickelson, Scott once worked with Butch Harmon. Scott was asked if Mickelson’s switch to Getson surprised him.

“Nothing surprises me in this game,” Scott said. “Generally, if you look at anyone, these relationships have a lifespan out here. You get the best out of each other when you’re meeting at the same point. Often, that changes with caddies or coaches or trainers or psychologists or anyone else. I know it was a very successful relationship they had. It’s just the way it is out here. Obviously, they felt like they needed a different direction.”

Scott said changes sometimes are refreshing.

Mickelson will be looking to refresh himself with a victory come Sunday.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.