Woods' struggles mean opportunity for Phil

By Randall MellJuly 23, 2013, 12:50 am

Tiger Woods did the rest of golf a huge favor getting out of the way for awhile.

He’s still doing it in major championships.

Back at the height of his powers, Woods mercilessly choked the growth around him. He towered so formidably over the game that his shadow stunted youthful ambition and damaged veteran confidence. His overwhelming presence smothered hopes and dreams.

Back when Woods was at his best on the game’s grandest stages, Paul Azinger said he felt sorry for the players of that generation because they would never know what it’s like to be the No. 1 player. Woods so formidably blocked the way there.

“Tiger destroyed a lot of players, confidence wise,” Butch Harmon, Woods’ former swing coach, once said.

Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and even Phil Mickelson might have substantially better resumes today if not for Woods’ long, dominant reign.

When Woods got out of the way taking that detour into a neighbor’s fire hydrant almost four years ago, he didn’t just give youthful talent room to grow. He opened the door for veterans to more confidently resume pursuit of their grandest dreams.

That gets us to Sunday and Mickelson’s brilliant finish in his Open Championship breakthrough victory.

After all Woods and Mickelson have been through, the release of the newest Official World Golf Ranking intrigues. It takes us back to a place that is simultaneously familiar and uncharted.

Through their ups and downs, through their winding journeys and all of their challenges, Woods and Mickelson are back today at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the world rankings.

It’s an exciting reprisal because while we’ve certainly been here before, we’ve never been here with this dynamic. We’ve never been here with the gap between No. 1 Woods and No. 2 Mickelson looking so narrow. Really, we’ve never been here before with Mickelson looking as if he has a legitimate chance to seize the No. 1 ranking from Woods and finally reign as the best player in all of golf.

Woods has been No. 1 in the world an incredible 641 weeks.

Mickelson has been No. 2 to Woods in 266 of those weeks.

When Mickelson first moved to No. 2 behind Woods on Feb. 11, 2001, the difference in their world-ranking average was more than daunting. Woods’ point average was 27.83 to Mickelson’s 11.78. Woods had a larger lead on Mickelson than Mickelson had on any other professional in the world.

The only times Mickelson got within a sniff of taking Woods’ No. 1 ranking was when Woods was out eight months recovering from knee surgery after his ’08 U.S. Open victory and after Woods took a long leave of absence after his personal woes shut down his game through the start of 2010. Still, even then, Mickelson couldn’t pass Woods at the top.

Today, at 43, Mickelson is looking as formidable as he has ever looked.

“I’m playing the best I’ve ever played,” he said Sunday with the claret jug in his clutches.

Mickelson told us going to Muirfield that he was driving and putting better than ever.

After a second-place finish on Merion’s narrow corridors in the U.S. Open last month and this win on Muirfield’s wickedly firm and fast layout, Mickelson radiates with renewed confidence and ambition.

Woods, despite four victories already this season, can’t say the same under major championship heat.

With a chance to end his five-year winless spell in majors Sunday at Muirfield, Woods squandered his bid with a 74. His weekend woes in majors are mystifying given how so many elements in his game are coming back.

“This is not the same Tiger Woods we are used to seeing,” Azinger said in Sunday’s ESPN telecast. “Maybe it is the Tiger Woods we are getting used to seeing.”

Woods, to be sure, is putting formidable tools in his game back together. He’s driving the ball better. His putting has returned in brilliant flashes. His iron play is the best in the world. He just hasn’t been able to carry it all into a major championship weekend yet. Why? You can’t help wondering if the shadow of his former brilliance isn’t stifling his own growth. You can’t help wondering if he doesn’t want it all back too much.

Here’s the thing, though. While Woods is struggling to put it all together in majors, his competition’s getting better, more confident, more ambitious. That’s making foes tougher for Woods to beat.

Woods isn’t stifling hopes and dreams anymore.

At 43, it’s all still there for Mickelson.

While he will never be consistently dangerous – it’s not in his biorhythms – all he has ever hoped and dreamed for in his career are within reach now.

Mickelson has never been No. 1 before. He’s within real striking distance now. He’s never been the PGA Tour Player of the Year. That’s within reach. He’s never been the PGA Tour’s leading money winner. That’s possible, too. He wants to win the career grand slam, and with this British Open breakthrough, a U.S. Open victory is all he lacks.

All Woods has most hoped and dreamed for is still there for him, too. At 37, he still has plenty of chances to win four more majors to tie Jack Nicklaus’ record for most major championship titles (18). It won’t be as easy as it once seemed, but it can still happen. Woods just has to figure out how to break this habit of getting out of the way on weekends at majors.

The prospect that Woods and Mickelson will have something to say about whether the other realizes his most cherished dreams tantalizes.

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.