In any language, Mickelson is entertaining

By Rex HoggardMarch 3, 2017, 11:37 pm

MEXICO CITY – Prompted by a local media type to test his Spanish this week, Phil Mickelson played along: “Un poquito,” he said, before adding. “I'm very limited on my Spanish, so let's not overdo it, OK?”

It’s only taken Lefty two days for the local masses to make their own translation of the mercurial southpaw – entretenido.

Mickelson has been his quintessentially entertaining self, combining four birdies with a bogey on Day 2 for a 7-under total and a share of second place. But there was much more to the 46-year-old’s line than that. There always is, and it started long before Mickelson even teed off.

Lefty’s longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, arrived at Club de Golf Chapultepec suffering from a stomach virus, which has been a common theme this week.

Midway through Mickelson’s warm-up, Mackay retreated to the clubhouse and Lefty’s brother, Tim, was put on call to possibly caddie.

“[Mickelson] has only had three caddies: his father-in-law [Gary McBride], Bones and me, and I’m retired,” Lefty’s manager, Steve Loy, said.

The last time Mickelson played an official event without Bones at his side was at the 2012 Singapore Open, the two a Tour staple for more than two decades. It’s a legacy made all the more amazing considering Mackay was back on the bag to start the year at the CareerBuilder Challenge after having double knee surgery in the offseason.

The bond runs so deep, Mickelson even called Mackay’s doctor the day before the surgery. “Hey, man, I need your best tomorrow,” he said.

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Mackay tried to work through the symptoms, hoisting the bag as Mickelson teed off and making it all the way to the fourth green (No. 13) before he finally succumbed to the symptoms and was driven back to the clubhouse.

“Bones is irreplaceable. I mean he's one of the best in the business,” Mickelson said. “But he's hurting. It's a difficult course to walk because it is hilly. We've had phenomenal times.  But on the positive side, I had a lot of fun with my brother.”

The brothers Mickelson began their era together in perfectly Mickelson-esque style, bogey at their first hole together (No. 14), birdie at the next, with a couple of wayward tee shots (No. 18) and miracle recovery attempts (No. 2) along the way, exactly what we’ve come to love and lament about Lefty.

“It was fun. It was the first time we were able to do that and it was fun. Trust me, I don’t want Bones’ job, though,” Tim Mickelson said. “I have a whole new respect. Every hole seems uphill.”

Mickelson missed wildly to the left with his tee shot at the second hole, tried to flop his next over a row of towering trees, a gamble that he lost, and needed to scramble from an awkward lie in the rough for his par.

It was perfect Phil, undeterred by distraction or potentially disastrous play. Where the mundane holds little appeal for Lefty, overcoming increasingly long odds seems to bring out the best in him.

Mickelson didn’t know if Mackay would be back at his side for Round 3, setting up an interesting scenario for Tim Mickelson, who is the manager of Jon Rahm. The Spaniard is currently tied for 14th in Mexico and could find himself vying for the same title.

“Let’s think about that on Sunday, because you want them both in the last group on Sunday, and at that point I’d recuse myself from walking,” smiled the younger Mickelson.

At this stage in his career Lefty hasn’t tried to hide the notion that it’s the majors that truly matter to him, but his body language this week suggests otherwise.

Much like there is every time he turns onto Magnolia Lane, which has always been hallowed ground for Mickelson, or arrives at the U.S. Open, the only missing piece to an otherwise perfect resume, there has been an elevated ease to Lefty this week.

“What's so fun about this course and I think the reason I've really fallen for it so quickly is that you have alternate ways to play every hole,” he said with an exuberance normally reserved for stops of the Grand Slam variety.

“You can hit driver on every hole and with the altitude you can really try and overpower it. However, the trees are so thick and dense you don't have a recovery shot. You can play conservative with irons. It's really a fun, exciting course to watch guys play.”

Mickelson has won two World Golf Championships, both in 2009, and the second at this event, albeit on another golf course, in a different country and under another sponsor.

Historically, the WGCs haven’t exactly been atop Mickelson’s dance card. He missed the Match Play from 2012-15 for a variety of reasons, including his children’s spring break, and he’s played the WGC-HSBC Champions only four times. The point is, although they are lucrative stops against the world’s best, the events have enjoyed a place well behind the majors for Lefty.

But this week seems different. This week Mickelson’s demeanor can be summed up with a single word – emocionado.

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."