Mickelson makes like Houdini in Round 3

By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2012, 1:32 am

LOS ANGELES – First, he was channeling Seve.

Then he was channeling Arnie.

Mostly, though, it was pure Phil Mickelson orchestrating Saturday’s series of escape acts at the Northern Trust Open.

“This was a great round for me because I did not play well,” Mickelson said.

You might want to read that last sentence again. Mickelson actually said that. This is how magicians think. They always have you looking where they want you to look, baffling you with their misdirection.

And that’s the way Mickelson played Saturday, like a man with rabbits in his top hat and a mile of scarves up his sleeves.

Heck, Harry Houdini couldn’t have freed himself from some of the jams Mickelson kept working himself into at Riviera.

You could have strapped Mickelson in a straitjacket, wrapped him in chains and stuck him in a box, and he still would have found a way to make par at the eighth hole after slicing his drive somewhere toward the San Fernando Valley.

Mickelson posted his seventh consecutive round under par despite hitting tee shots off trees, behind staircases and bushes, and even into a man’s shorts.

That’s right, into a man’s shorts.

At the 15th hole, Mickelson pushed his tee shot into the crowd, where Mickelson was sure he must have hurt somebody. When he arrived at the shot, he spied a man on the ground.

“I thought I had taken him out,” Mickelson said. “It wouldn’t have been the first time.”

Mickelson chuckled when he saw his golf ball wedged in a hem at the bottom of the man’s shorts.

Of course, Mickelson made par from there.

With a 1-under-par 70, Mickelson scrambled to keep a share of the lead going into Sunday’s final round. He’s at 7 under with his new pal, Keegan Bradley, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year who won twice last season, one of them the PGA Championship.

They’ll go off together with Bryce Molder, who shot 66 Saturday to move one off the lead.

They’ve got a lot of company squeezed in behind them. Talk about your L.A. traffic jams. This leaderboard is more crowded than the 405 at rush hour. There are 10 players within a shot of the lead.

“There are a lot of players right in it, within a couple shots of the lead,” Mickelson said. “It’s going to take a good round tomorrow, but I’m pleased I put myself in it.”

Mickelson called Saturday’s 70 a great round because “I did not play well, and I’m atop the leaderboard.”

The eighth hole pretty much summed up Mickelson’s day. He sliced his drive way left, through the stand of trees there and into a hospitality pavilion. His ball ended up behind a staircase and a bush. Even with relief from a man-made obstacle, Mickelson still had a difficult approach shot from 151 yards, through the trees.

When Mickelson took a whack with his 9-iron, Riviera went bonkers, fans whooping and hollering with Mickelson’s ball carving through an opening and winding up 14 feet from the hole.

“It was just a little 9-iron shot,” Mickelson said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

That’s what magicians say when they make elephants appear out of nowhere.

Mickelson missed the birdie chance, but he kept scrapping despite too many wayward shots. He hit just seven fairways, just 10 greens in regulation.

Afterward, he immediately called his swing coach, Butch Harmon.

“I’ll get it turned around,” Mickelson said. “I’ve already talked to Butch. I’ve already got texts. I’ll go hit some balls and get it turned around for tomorrow. Today was a big day because if I didn’t fight hard and make pars from some of the places I was, I’d be trying to play catch-up.”

Instead, Mickelson will be trying to become the first player to win in back-to-back weeks since Tiger Woods did so three years ago.

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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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.