Mickelsons Masters to Remember

By Rex HoggardApril 12, 2010, 5:57 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – For five months Tiger Woods begrudgingly dominated the spotlight. On Sunday Phil Mickelson and Augusta National took it back.

Good golf, the pundits claimed, would change a conversation that had lingered on unsavory items for far too long. They were right, but who knew the quality crafting would come byway an off-form lefty with wavering focus between a game that had come so easy to him at the end of 2009 and a wife who needed him.

For five months Woods has been reclusive and reticent. For five months Mickelson has been rusty and routinely, and rightly, distracted.

Turns out all Mickelson needed to get things back on track was Woods and a golf course that feels likes a comfortable sweeter. Alpha, it seems, needs omega to complete the championship cocktail.

The Masters Mickelson staked his claim to with his eagle-eagle-birdie blitz late Saturday afternoon was his long before he began the walk up the steep 18th fairway. By the 16th hole he was three clear of the field, the byproduct of the type of back-nine charge people remember, and he could have played to the crowd and skipped his tee shot across the pond like they do in practice rounds.

He played it straight, played the last three on a warm Sunday afternoon without flaw and had two coveted prizes waiting for him after holing his 8 footer for birdie at the last – a green jacket and a glowing wife, Amy, who has been absent from Tour life since being diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

“My wife has been through a lot this year and it means a lot to share some joy together,” Mickelson said in a broken voice. “She’s been an inspiration to me the last year.”

This week Mickelson gave his better-half plenty to cheer, to say nothing of the Augusta National faithful.

What started with Saturday’s back-nine fireworks came to a head when Mickelson reached the devilish 12th hole. He figured he needed to play famed Amen Corner in even par to keep pace with a leaderboard that turned over with each roar. He did one better, covering the hallowed ground in 2 under on his way to a closing 67, a 16-under 272 total and a three-shot victory.

There has been much made of Mickelson’s on-course evolution, some opining that he’d toned down his high-wire act in recent years, but at Augusta National he was every bit the “Thrill” of old.

At the 18th on Saturday and on the fifth on Sunday, Mickelson flopped and won, beating the odds and gravity and every ounce of reason in caddie Jim Mackay’s body for improbable pars via shots that looked like they may never fall from the sky.

On Sunday at the 13th, he beat the field the old fashion way, with bravado bordering on recklessness. From 207 yards through a 2-foot gap, and against Mackay’s subtle advice, Mickelson rifled a 6-iron from the pine straw to 4 feet. He missed the eagle putt, but his birdie dropped him to 12 under and two clear of a field that was running out of time.

“I tried to talk him out of it, he said no. I went at him again, he said definitely no,” Mackay laughed. “That’s Phil, he simplifies things. Give me the club and get out of the way.”

The powers that be wanted the pines to rattle, Mickelson rattled the pine straw at the 13th and put one arm in his third green jacket. He now owns more Augusta National green than all but three players named Jack, Arnie and Tiger.

As for the latter, the “return” ended with a mixed card. To wrap up Woods’ week, his best moments may have come on Monday when he held his mass Q&A with a curious media and didn’t break any china. But after four days of tournament golf maybe the biggest questions that remain are about his golf. And that’s progress by any measure.

He was solid Thursday and Friday, dodgy on Saturday and simply not sharp enough to get the job done on Sunday. For the record, Choi matched Woods shot-for-shot and side-by-side over 72 holes. It was Y.E. Yang all over again. Who knew Woods’ real Achilles ailment was Korean Kryptonite?

From the start Woods’ swing seemed out of sync and on Sunday he battled the dreaded two-way miss. He hit the ninth fairway, from the first tee, played an eventful outward loop of 35 that included three bogeys, two birdies and an eagle and was largely a non-story for the second-consecutive year on the back nine.

There were those who said a Woods victory straight out of his hiatus would not look good for the game. So, in that case, Karma wins.

Lost in that hyperbole, however, was Woods’ tie for fourth, his seventh consecutive year in the top six, a victory of form if not function given the circumstances.

“I had another terrible warm-up,” said Woods, who closed with 69 and tied with Choi in fourth place. “Big hook off of (No. 1), popped up my drive at (No. 2), bladed a chip at (No. 3).”

Sounds a lot like a man who missed five months on the job and his play suggests the only fix Woods needs is reps, which prompted one scribe to ask when he will play again?

“Think we’re playing the Monday qualifier for Hilton Head (Verizon Heritage) tomorrow,” Woods cracked.

He lost the tournament, but not his sense of humor. The same might not be said for Lee Westwood, the 54-hole leader who appeared poised to end all that Grand Slam heartache.

To be honest, Augusta National is not a place the Englishman had fallen for. Westwood’s miss is a quick left, which is an easy way to work one’s way off a leaderboard. But he’d put the time in to learn the Georgia gem’s secrets, floating in the week before the event to cram for the ultimate exam.

“That did him a world of good. All week it just made him feel comfortable and he’s starting to understand it,” said Chubby Chandler, Westwood’s manager.

The major enigma, however, continues to baffle Westwood, who completed the “Near-miss Slam” on Sunday with his runner-up showing. In the last two years he’s finished no worse than third at the U.S. Open (2008), British Open (2009), PGA Championship (2009) and now the Masters.

Fred Couples can relate. At 50 years old he was looking to top Jack Nicklaus, who won his last Masters at 46 in 1986. Instead, “Boom Boom” signed for a closing 70 and took the senior division, which comes with no jacket just a pair of Ecco shoes and no socks.

Couples’ title chances slipped away with a missed short putt at the 11th, a familiar theme, and were rinsed for good when his tee shot at the 12th hit the bank and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. Augusta National’s “second cut” must not have the grab that it did in 1992, when Couples beat the field and gravity with one of the all-time breaks to lift his green jacket.

“It was a great four days for me,” said Couples before boarding a golf cart bound for the greener pastures of the Champions Tour after his final-round 70 left him alone in sixth.

In order Choi and Anthony Kim, fresh from his Shell Houston Open victory, made spirited runs. The American born of Korean parents clawed into the game with a birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie run that began on the 13th hole. The Korean proper took a share of the lead with a 7 footer for birdie at the 10th hole, but neither could keep pace with Mickelson.

No one could. Not at a golf course that means so much. Not with fate smiling down from crystal clear skies and a wife and two children, the oldest of whom had to be rushed to an area emergency room with a fractured arm following a roller-skating mishap Saturday night, waiting happily.

“We refer to (Augusta National) as Phil’s playground,” Mackay said.

He’s finished outside the top 10 at Augusta National once in the last decade and he plays the venerable club’s closing nine the way Bobby Jones envisioned, with zeal. For the week Lefty was 13 under on the inward loop, including his no-bogey, four-birdie finish on Sunday.

To put it simply, “I love this place,” Mickelson said.

On Sunday – with Amy waiting behind the 18th green, 11 months removed from Tour life but beaming as if she’d never left – both Mickelson’s made a return at a place where it matters the most. Moments later they entered Butler Cabin together, holding hands, and it seemed like home.

Getty Images

After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

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

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

Getty Images

Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Getty Images

Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal 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 upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



Getty Images

Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”