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Prez pick? Mickelson's Cup streak in jeopardy

By Rex HoggardAugust 24, 2017, 9:30 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – “What did he shoot, 2 [over]?” Steve Stricker asked as a cool morning gave way to the last vestiges of summer at Glen Oaks on Thursday.

Although he’d just finished a round of 4 over himself, Stricker’s focus was squarely on Phil Mickelson and how he fared on Day 1 of what is essentially an eight-round Presidents Cup qualifier.

The toughest part of Stricker’s job as the U.S. Presidents Cup captain has been made that much more complicated by Mickelson’s performance this season which has left the southpaw 18th on the points list and in danger of not playing for a U.S. team, any team, for the first time since 1994.

As the Sept. 4 deadline approaches, Mickelson’s plight has been particularly consuming for Stricker, who will make his two captain’s picks following the final round of next week’s Dell Technologies Championship.

Although two stellar weeks could make all of Stricker’s anxiety go away, Mickelson’s start at The Northern Trust wasn’t exactly encouraging, and the fact that Lefty has just a single top-10 finish in the last five months is hard to ignore.

He is, however, Phil Mickelson.

“I’m going to talk to him when this is all over the next two weeks and see how he’s feeling,” Stricker said. “He deserves that, more than anything. He’s been a part of so many teams and he’s shown when he’s down to 30th on the points that he can come and contribute and contribute in a big way.”

The Northern Trust: Articles, video and photos

FedExCup standings entering the playoffs

Although Stricker stopped short of giving Mickelson the keys to the kingdom when it comes to a potential captain’s pick, it seems clear that when the time comes Lefty will have a voice at the table which creates an interesting dynamic for a player who has never lacked for confidence.

Even if Mickelson doesn’t catch lightning in a bottle over the next fortnight, it’s hard to imagine that the inner competitor would concede that he’s not playing well enough to contribute to the U.S. team at Liberty National.

Asked on Thursday at Glen Oaks if he thought he could be “honest” with Stricker when the time comes Mickelson said, “I will be. I will be.”

Perhaps Mickelson will be able to come to terms with his Presidents Cup plight, but that still leaves Stricker faced with an ever-evolving reality. If not Phil, then who?

“No one else is really standing out in my mind right now. [Kevin] Chappell has played well, he’s No. 11, but 12 through 20 no one has really done anything. I’m looking for someone to really step up and play some good golf,” Stricker said. “If nobody does, then it will be a tough pick.”

That list of would-be picks includes Chappell at No. 11, Brian Harman (12), Jason Dufner (13), Gary Woodland (14), Brandt Snedeker (15), Brendan Steele (16) and Ryan Moore (17).

Of those six players ranked 12th to 17th, only one (Woodland at the Canadian Open) has a top-10 finish over the last month – although Moore did finish tied for 13th at the PGA – and Snedeker recently announced he was done playing this season due to an injury to his sternum joint.

Stricker is also eyeing a team that currently includes five Presidents Cup rookies (to be fair, Koepka’s experience at last year’s Ryder Cup would mitigate some of that inexperience).

Without the likes of Mickelson - who has evolved into the team-room leader - or Jim Furyk, an assistant captain for this year’s matches there’s the potential for a leadership vacuum. Who fills that space without Lefty?

“I don’t know, that’s a good question,” Stricker said. “There could be potentially a lot of leaders. We have [assistant captains] Tiger Woods in our locker room, Davis Love, Freddie [Couples], Jim Furyk. Jordan Spieth is a veteran in so many ways except for his age, there are a lot of guys who are going to lead by example.”

There’s no denying that Mickelson brings more to the team room than just a 23-16-12 record in the matches, and from Stricker’s point of view there’s no statistic to accurately quantify what that means.

“He’s got a calming influence,” Stricker said. “He thinks about everything, he’s got a lot of knowledge. He’s a team guy. He’s important for the team.”

A few weeks ago at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Stricker spoke with Mickelson, encouraged him and offered a final thought, “you’ve got to show me a little bit more than what you’ve shown lately.”

For those who know Stricker, it was entirely out of character and the U.S. captain quickly offered an apology.

“It’s weird coming from a guy who has never won any majors and only won 12 times on Tour telling Phil, 'Hey you’ve got to show me more.' That doesn’t sound right coming from me.”

To Mickelson’s credit, he acknowledged that his current form simply won’t due regardless of how beneficial his experience and leadership could be to what promises to be a young U.S. team.

“I've got to bring something to the table,” Mickelson said. “If I can play well this week and next week and show that I'm playing as well as I know I'm playing, but the only thing that matters is the score.”

All season Mickelson has said his game is close, but now so is a deadline that could potentially end one of the most impressive streaks in golf unless he can turn things around in a hurry.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.