For Mickelson, a great round, and a major letdown

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2016, 8:03 pm

TROON, Scotland – It only makes sense that on a day that felt more SoCal than Scottish summer a kid from San Diego would bask in the sunshine and take his swing at major immortality, all shirtsleeves and smiles.

Under a bright, warm sun and with hardly a breath of wind Phil Mickelson played the opening round of this Open like it was a casual round at Torrey Pines, although to be perfectly accurate Lefty has appeared much more at ease on the ancient links than he has ata the SoCal muni in recent years.

The wildly unpredictable southpaw was curiously consistent on Day 1, playing what he called an “easy” round on Royal Troon all the way to the final green and the precipice of Grand Slam history.

From 16 feet Mickelson watched his birdie putt track toward the hole at the last. He’d seen it in his mind’s eye, trundling toward the cup and vanishing in a moment of adrenaline and disbelief as Lefty – the often snake-bitten but never boring hero, both tragic and otherwise – became the first player in the history of major championships to sign for a 62.

There have been 437 modern majors played and yet golf’s magic number has eluded all – from Nicklaus to Woods. Although Mickelson prides himself on clinging to clichés, you know the drill: one shot at a time. As he made his way toward Royal Troon’s 18th green, toward history, Mickelson allowed himself a moment of self-indulgent excitement.

The Open: Full-field scores | Live daily blog | Photo gallery

Full coverage from the 145th Open

“I said [to caddie Jim Mackay], ‘I need your best read. I don't know if you know this ...’” he said with his boyish smile. “He says, ‘Oh, I know.’ So, we’re on the same page.”

Ernie Els, who was paired with Mickelson on Day 1, putted first in order to give Lefty a chance to see the line. Mickelson and Mackay consulted, “breaking left in the middle of the putt and then straight the last bit,” they agreed.

The crowd, healthy even by Open standards for a Thursday afternoon, watched quietly, and Lefty rocked and fired, the putt perfectly paced.

“With a foot to go I thought I had done it. I saw that ball rolling right in the center,” he said. “I went to go get it, I had that surge of adrenaline that I had just shot 62, and then . . .”

And then the putt lipped out.

Maybe it was the golf gods or some unspecified curse or a pebble or spike mark.

“I had the heartbreak that I didn't see and watched that ball lip out,” he allowed.

Mickelson finished the day with an 8-under 63, just his third bogey-free round in The Open, which was good for a three-stroke lead over Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer.

He became the ninth player to shoot a 63 in The Open and the first to do so at Royal Troon.

He didn’t care about any of that.

“I shot one of the most incredible rounds and feel like crying,” Mickelson said moments after signing his scorecard.

It all seemed so cosmically apropos for a player who once lipped out for 59 at the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’s inexplicably never won a PGA Tour money title, never been No. 1 in the world, never hoisted the FedEx Cup.

His career, his legacy, has been forged in majors, and to become the first player to shoot 62 under the most difficult conditions would have been a seminal moment.

“The way he played out there today, it's amazing he's only won one Open,” Els said. “It was beautifully played. Just a pity, I don't know how that putt didn't go in on 18. That would have been something. That was a great, great round.”

Mickelson began his run with an outward 32, which given Thursday’s benign conditions and the relative ease of Royal Troon’s opening nine was not an outright surprise.

But then he added birdies at the 10th hole, managed to save par at the demanding 11th and took the outright lead with a birdie at the 14th hole.

He ripped a “salty” bunker shot to 12 feet at No. 16 for birdie and when he converted for another at the par-3 17th hole, visions of 62 began drifting through Mickelson’s mind.

“When that putt [at No. 17] went in, then I knew I had a chance,” said Mickelson, who closed with a 66 on Sunday at the Scottish Open to tie for 13th place.

While form and fearlessness have a tendency to go hand in hand, that doesn’t entirely explain how a player who is winless on the PGA Tour since 2013 could turn back the clock so convincingly.

There was nothing in Lefty’s permanent record to suggest he’d pick apart the ancient links with such ease. He opened with a 73 in 2004 and tied for 24th in 1997 at the last two Royal Troon Opens. But those turns were well before he solved the links riddle with his victory at Muirfield in 2013.

Prior to that Scottish fortnight, which included a victory the week before at the Scottish Open, Mickelson had just two top-10 finishes in 17 Open starts.

Thursday’s unseasonably kind weather certainly gave Phil and the rest of the field plenty of reasons to be bold. For the day, Royal Troon buckled under sunny skies with more than 50 sub-par rounds.

Colin Montgomerie, Troon’s prodigal son having grown up on the seaside links, figured Thursday’s conditions were a “3 out of 10 job,” compared to what’s forecast for Friday, “tomorrow, we're talking 7, 8 out of 10.”

Even fresh from the sting of his missed opportunity, Mickelson, who has been chased away from the claret jug on more than one occasion by Mother Nature, sensed the storm that promised to follow the calm.

“We'll have varying conditions tomorrow. It's going to be very difficult,” Mickelson said. “A good number might be over par.”

At 46 years old Mickelson isn’t much interested in sentimental victories, particularly after another disappointing U.S. Open last month where he missed the cut a week after finishing runner-up in Memphis.

At this point in the proceedings, Mickelson has made no secret of his priorities. Adding to his total of 42 Tour tilts would be nice, but his focus is on the four weeks a year that define careers.

Becoming the player to end the 62 curse would have ranked alongside those major goals, and he conceded it will take some time to get over Thursday, but then the thrill of the chase has always been the best part for Lefty.

“It was fun,” smiled Mickelson’s longtime manager Steve Loy.

Mickelson always is.

Getty Images

After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

Getty Images

Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

Getty Images

Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

Getty Images

Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry