Driver lifts Lefty, putter brings him down in Rd. 1

By Rex HoggardJune 12, 2014, 8:04 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – This isn’t a normal week. It was never going to be.

Phil Mickelson said as much with his body language and his preparation and his outspoken assessment regarding everything that is on the line at the 114th U.S. Open.

He’s owned the reality of the situation with confident abandon that this Open, this Pinehurst Open, would be the crowning achievement of what is already a Hall of Fame career.

It would give Lefty a career Grand Slam and end more than two decades of trail and largely failure in his national championship. And it would bring his legacy full circle, back to the moment he finished runner-up to the late Payne Stewart at the 1999 Open for the first of six near misses.

In quintessential Phil style he hasn’t tried to make this Open anything less.

“This is a special week. This is a special tournament, a tournament that means a lot to me,” he said on Thursday.

In word and deed Mickelson has embraced this week with a once-in-a-lifetime focus.

He spent four hours on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon working on his game, particularly his putting, and following an even-par 70 to start his week he bolted for the practice putting green for more field work before he even spoke to the media.

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On Wednesday, Mickelson figured that the retro No. 2 course was a perfect fit for him, with acres of rough replaced by waste areas that are dotted with love grass and enough humps and bumps to send a mountain goat searching for a Dramamine fix.

Lefty figured, as only he can, that in a chipping contest he liked his chances.

But the 43-year-old failed his first Donald Ross exam at the 15th hole, his sixth hole of the day, when his tee shot sailed long and, faced with about a billion options, he chipped through the green and made the first of three bogeys.

From tee to green on Day 1 Mickelson proved up to the historical task, hitting nine of 14 fairways – impressive primarily because of his aggressive approach with the driver this week – and 13 of 18 greens in regulation.

“This golf course is a course where I get a similar feeling that I get at Augusta where I don't have to be perfect,” Mickelson said.

“I can miss shots. I can miss greens and still get up and down. I always have a chance. There's not the hack-it-out-rough. It is challenging. There are difficult shots, but they're manageable and hittable if you pull them off.”

His putting, however, remains suspect, which prompted his post-round rap session on Pinehurst’s crusty practice green.

“I've got to make some 15-, 20-footers, the ones that can go either way, to shoot a good enough number here,” he said. “There's not enough pins that you can go at and send that 20-footer up the hill. I've got to make some of those. I didn't make any today, but I'm going to keep working on it.”

Mickelson huddled with putting coach Dave Stockton Sr. early Tuesday in search of answers, reverted to a modified claw grip and spent much of Wednesday afternoon rolling in one-handed 5-footers.

“I told him, ‘You’re playing the British Open this week. I don’t think you can hammer anything,’” Stockton said. “You’ve got to have the touch.”

He may also need a little patience, which will be hard to come by considering the scope of this week’s championship.

Although Lefty still has a handful of U.S. Open opportunities ahead of him, there is no denying that he is much closer to the end of his storied career than the beginning.

It’s probably why he has chosen to embrace this mountain instead of plugging his head into one of Pinehurst’s ubiquitous sandy natural areas.

“I don't know if it will be this week or next year or the year after,” he said. “I do still have 100 percent confidence that I'll be able to break through and get one.”

On that cool, wet Father’s Day 15 years ago, Stewart took Mickelson’s face into his hands on the 72nd hole and offered the only solace he could think of: “You’re going to be a father. You’ll have plenty of chances to win (the Open).”

In many ways returning to Pinehurst is a vivid reminder that those chances are dwindling and that he must make the most of what remains, because pressure he can deal with, but failure is unacceptable.

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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

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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 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.

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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."

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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.


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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.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."