Mickelson's resiliency brings him more major glory

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2013, 7:00 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – For Lefty, 43 is the new 33.

Stronger than ever and more technically sound, in body and mind, Phil Mickelson did what many believed he couldn’t do on Sunday at Muirfield – win an Open Championship to move within a U.S. Open title of the career Grand Slam.

While Mickelson’s British breakthrough may not exactly hold to predetermined scripts, he has tuned his competitive twilight years into something of a renaissance. The question is no longer, ‘What will Phil do next?’ so much as it is ‘What can’t Phil do?’

Since turning 40 in 2010 few, if any, players in the modern era have transformed themselves as thoroughly as Mickelson, adding five PGA Tour titles to his resume and two majors (2010 Masters and 2013 Open Championship).

Cradling the claret jug late Sunday at Muirfield following his final-round 66 for a three-stroke victory, it was hard to calculate how much ground the southpaw had covered, professionally and personally, since 2010.

Photos: Mickelson through the years

Photos: Mickelson's major victories

142nd Open Championship: Articles, videos and photos

On Aug. 10, 2010, Mickelson stunned a room full of reporters at the PGA Championship when he revealed that he’d been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects about one in 100 people.

“About eight weeks ago, about five days before the U.S. Open started, I woke up and I had some intense pain in some areas of my body, some joints and tendons and so forth; so much so that I couldn't walk,” he said at the time. “It progressively got worse.”

A year earlier, Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer and some figured Lefty’s best years were behind him, the victim of poor health and redefined priorities.

But like he did in 2006 after the heartbreak at Winged Foot and last week following another disappointing finish in June at Merion, Mickelson rebounded. The reality is that Mickelson began working harder than ever in the days following his 40th birthday to refine his swing and his body.

“It’s unbelievable really,” said Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s swing coach. “When you think about what he’s been through. Think about the arthritis problems that he had. Think about the problems Amy has had. Think about what he’s been through in his game. He’s probably the most resilient player I’ve ever seen in my life.

“You knock the guy down, he just gets back up. He’s just a champion, always has been.”

Harmon is largely credited for dialing back Mickelson’s more aggressive tendencies, and when he arrived at Augusta National earlier this season with the Phrankenwood, a driver/fairway wood hybrid that took the place of his driver, Harmon considered it a seminal moment.

Mickelson’s penchant to over swing has historically been his competitive blind spot (see Foot, Winged, 2006), but with age, and technology, has come a new found appreciation for restraint.

“It takes away his desire to bomb it,” Harmon said. “Me and Bones (Mickelson’s caddie Jim Mackay) have been trying to dial him back for years.”

That Mickelson is in the best physical shape of his career has also eased Lefty into midlife. The psoriatic arthritis forced Mickelson to adjust his diet – which, he admits, was not always the healthiest – and intensify his workout regimen. Earlier this season at Doral, Lefty estimated he was dropping about a pound a month and had lost 25 pounds over the last two years.

“The amount of preparation he has put into every aspect of his game at this point in his career is phenomenal,” said Sean Cochran, Mickelson’s trainer. “Since 2010, it’s been a progression. Not a week goes by that he doesn’t work.”

In many ways, Mickelson’s midlife crisis was wanting to be better, and with assists from Harmon, Cochran, Dave Stockton Sr. (putting) and Dave Pelz (short game) he set out to not go quietly into middle-aged irrelevance.

“One thing about him is he’s one of those guys that if you stay the same you’re backing up,” Mackay said. “He really works hard to get better; he’s gotten better; he’s 43 years old and getting better.”

There is no question Mickelson remains hungry regardless of his Hall of Fame credentials, but it’s just as clear he does so on his own terms and with a clear agenda. Earlier this month when he missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic armchair analyst figured he’d slipped into a post-U.S. Open malaise.

Merion, Mickelson’s sixth runner-up finish at his national championship, was seen by some as the ultimate professional haymaker, and his pedestrian record in the Open Championship – he had just one top-10 finish in his first 17 trips across the pond – suggested he was no closer to the claret jug.

But Mickelson arrived in the United Kingdom early to play the Scottish Open, which he won on a new, but authentic, links course at Castle Stuart. And on Sunday at Muirfield he played what many, including Mackay and Harmon, consider the greatest round of his career.

“He’s a resilient guy,” said Mackay, who has been with Mickelson since he turned pro more than two decades ago. “He looks forward; he works hard. How many people build a practice facility in their yard, post-40? He really, really wants it.”

For Lefty, the game isn’t about pay checks or even week-in and week-out performances, it’s about legacy. If he were to collect that elusive U.S. Open title he’d join an uber-exclusive list of just five players to claim the career Grand Slam.

“If I’m able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that’s a sign of the complete great player,” he said. “If I were able to ever win a U.S. Open, and I’m very hopeful that I will, but it has been elusive for me. And yet this championship has been much harder for me to get.”

With that he was off into the gloomy East Lothian night. There are still major mountains to be climbed.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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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.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

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?''