Mickelson Woods provide a fitting end to the season

By Rex HoggardSeptember 28, 2009, 5:21 am

THE TOUR Championship by Coke 2007 LogoATLANTA – The year of coloring outside the lines finally stayed on script.

The same game that gave us Angel Cabrera over Kenny Perry at Augusta National, Lucas Glover over Phil Mickelson and David Duval at Bethpage, Stewart Cink over Tom Watson at Turnberry and Y.E. Yang over Tiger Woods at Hazeltine Naitonal delivered a double matinee worthy of all the playoff hype.

After two high fastballs the Tour never sniffed to begin the playoff experiment, officials were treated to a timeless walkoff courtesy Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods on Sunday at sun-splashed East Lake. Alpha, meet Omega.

Mickelson won the battle, a three-stroke victory at East Lake to cap an emotional year, while Woods won the war, a second-time FedEx Cup champion despite a pitched Sunday afternoon that taxed pocket calculators and prognosticators everywhere.

For Woods, the FedEx Cup is a fitting end to a year that began with more uncertainty than many understood and yet again validated those endless hours with swing coach Hank Haney on Isleworth’s practice range retooling for the long haul.

As for Mickelson, he simply putted like he did when he was a kid, and on Sunday he played like one – fearless and undaunted by a four-stroke deficit and an all-star cast assembled between himself and that crystal keepsake.

Things didn’t start well for Mickelson. He played ping-pong at the 14th hole on Thursday and took an eight, had not graced a Tour leaderboard since that rainy week in June on Long Island, and at one point early in the proceedings he was nine strokes off the lead.

“Even when I was playing hockey there on 14 Thursday, you know, slapping the ball all around the green, I still felt much better about my game and I was excited about playing even though I wasn't getting out of my round on Thursday what I should have,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson – who missed much of the summer schedule to stay at home with his wife, Amy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer – followed his opening 73 with rounds of 67-66. However, he still seemed an afterthought heading into the final turn at East Lake, thanks to Perry’s near-flawless play on Saturday and Woods’ dogged pursuit.

On Saturday, Mickelson made little signs out of big ones on the 13th hole, side kicking a marker to splinters. Who knew his next action would be a high-flying haymaker to East Lake’s short field?

Mickelson birdied two of first four holes on Sunday, dropped two more before the turn to overtake a sputtering Perry and never let up on the pedal on his way to his second Tour Championship title.

With a commanding two-stroke lead at the turn, Phil thrilled and the chorus that met him on the closing nine had a Bethpage feel to it. New York, new south? Same difference.

Perhaps the only off-script portion of the proceedings occurred behind the 16th green on Sunday. With his ball nestled into a nasty Bermuda grass lie, Mickelson lofted his 64-degree wedge shot into the hole. A defining moment, to be sure, but the winner in Mickelson’s bag for the week was his putter thanks to a bold suggestion by his caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay and two enlightening days with Dave Stockton last week in Southern California.

Discouraged by poor putting that didn’t allow him to make the most of his retooled and tighter swing, Mickelson met with Stockton at the urging of Mackay who reinforced many of the same concepts Lefty embraced when he was younger – hands forward, club head straight back and straight through. The results were unmistakable – a tie for third for the week in putts made distance and second among the 30-man field in putting with just 107 attempts.

“(Stockton) said, ‘Nobody will putt as well as you and I with our hands like that because we're leading with the back of our hand,’” Mickelson said. “Once he said that, I said, yeah, that's right, I've always believed that. So I went back to it, and it's been a night and day difference for me.”

As for that Chuck Norris action, the viewing public shouldn’t be surprised considering Lefty has incorporated martial arts into his fitness routine for years.

“Phil has the capacity to be a first-degree black belt,” Mickelson’s uber-cool fitness guru Sean Cochran said. “But he can’t take me down. If he says that don’t believe it for a minute.”

Instead, Mickelson took down the field at East Lake and added to his impressive Georgia resume that counts victories at the Masters, the now-defunct BellSouth Classic and the Tour Championship.

Yet as impressive and inspiring, as Mickelson’s victory was, it shared equal billing with the week’s undercard, the FedEx Cup.

The forecast for most of the week called for cloudy skies with a chance of abject boredom thanks to Woods’ near-flawless form. The world No. 1 opened with 67, followed with middle cards of 68-69 and seemed poised to roll past Perry on his way to the season-ending two-fer, the FedEx Cup and another Tour Championship for an $11.3 million four-day haul. Not bad work if you can get it.

But then what SubAir and suspect math created, neither Mother Nature nor Mickelson could put asunder.

Woods made a final run at Mickelson with birdies at the 15th and 16th holes and an agonizingly close near miss at the 17th hole with Lefty watching closely from the final tee, but he finished three shots back and alone in second place.

Woods had said the ‘W’ was what counted, everything else would follow, but that $10 million FedEx check ($9 million in cash and $1 million differed) will likely soften the blow.

“I'm sure I would probably be more happy tomorrow than I am right now, because you're in the moment trying to win this event,” said Woods, who was undone at East Lake by an unproductive week on the greens. “When you're in the moment out there, I'm trying to win a golf tournament, I'm trying to beat Phil, he's trying to beat me, Kenny, Sean (O’Hair), we're all there, and it was just a great leaderboard. Come tomorrow, I'm sure I'll feel a lot better.”

Tomorrow he won’t be putting on the same table-top greens. Welcome to East Lake, a place where bunkers are no longer aiming points and grain is not just a Midwest staple. As a result, the playoff finale was Putting 101. Sean O’Hair thrived in Round 1 thanks to a putting tip from Woods on Wednesday and Mickelson closed the regular season with a flourish thanks to an encouraging two days with Stockton all because the 7,300-yard gem produced a putting contest. And no one suffered more from this certainty than Perry.

On golf’s Super Bowl Sunday, Perry was the halftime show. The man who can be found on many days behind the counter at Country Creek, the golf course he built in his Kentucky town, seemed in control at a wash-and-rinsed East Lake for three rounds. On Sunday, he looked awash in uncertainty.

Perry’s outward loop on Sunday had a used car lot feel to it – save, save, save – thanks to missed greens at nine of his first 11 holes. That is until the magic finally ran out. He chopped up the birdie-friendly ninth hole, stumbled at the 11th hole and never took a putt on his way to double bogey at the 13th. It all added up to 74 and a tie for fourth.

Perry’s consolation prize for the week was the Payne Stewart Award, which he’d been presented earlier in the week. But it was little solace.

East Lake was Perry’s second near miss in Georgia this year, but that Masters miss will likely linger much longer in the southerner’s psyche.

At the other end of the emotional pendulum is Mickelson, adrift for much of the season by much more important matters at home and vexed by streaky putting for so long.

On Sunday, he finally delivered. On Sunday, golf finally delivered.

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

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

Each week, GolfChannel.com 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

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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.

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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.

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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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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