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.

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“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.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.