Ryder Cup win made Mickelson's 2016 a success

By Rex HoggardOctober 12, 2016, 11:01 pm

NAPA, Calif. – No one does perspective like Phil Mickelson.

Rarely at a loss for words, Lefty offers nuanced outlooks on events that can be hard to see coming. Take his run at history on Thursday at this year's Open Championship, when his birdie putt for the single-round major-championship record of 62 wrapped around the cup at the 18th hole but wouldn't fall.

“It was one of the best rounds that I've played. I was able to take advantage of these conditions, and yet I want to shed a tear right now,” he said in Scotland.

Other times it’s a lemonade-from-lemons deal, like when he assessed his season on Wednesday at the Safeway Open, where he'll make his final start of the year.

On paper, ’16 was anything but sweet for the southpaw. He failed to win on the PGA Tour for the third consecutive season and just the fourth time as a professional. He missed the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open, the two events that truly get his blood pumping, and contended in just a single major - the aforementioned Open, when he lost a historic Sunday duel with Henrik Stenson.

But just before he headed out for his pro-am round at Silverado Resort & Spa, there was a smile that inched across his face when he was asked for his thoughts on the season ahead.

“After five solid days off, it's exciting to start the year,” Mickelson began, a not-so-subtle jab at the wraparound season. “I'm still on an emotional high from the Ryder Cup. It's been such a fun experience to share that with so many guys.”

After 42 Tour victories and five major triumphs, it’s difficult to overstate Mickelson’s emotional investment in last month’s matches, particularly for a player who entered with a 16-19-6 career record before going 2-1-1 at Hazeltine. He had previously been accused, however unfairly, of not caring about the event. That was before he drew a monsoon of criticism in 2014 when he called out the U.S. team’s leadership in the wake of another American loss.

But from that pulpit was born the Ryder Cup task force, which evolved into a committee and a five-point U.S. victory.

Safeway Open: Articles, photos and videos

In true Phil style, Mickelson explained that while winning was great, it was how the American side arrived at its spirited Sunday celebration that made this year’s Ryder Cup truly special.

“The results happen when you play well and the guys really played well, but I think the reason we were able to play well was we had so many variables eliminated well in advance,” he said. “The vice captains and the captain had such a great gameplan prior to the event that when we got to the tournament week, we were able to focus solely on our game and our preparation.”

Mickelson’s investment in this year’s matches was unparalleled and it had to be. After what happened at Gleneagles, no captain, no player has ever felt the pressure to perform like he did. He admitted as much at Hazeltine and went so far as to refer to himself as a “dumbass” for his comments in the wake of the 2014 defeat.

For those who would dismiss the notion that a single team event, even an event as intense as the Ryder Cup, could make the difference between a pedestrian year and a season to remember, the proof was in Mickelson’s actions.

From inside the game’s most unflattering fishbowl, Mickelson withstood every sling and arrow, embracing the role of lightning rod in what some believe was an attempt to shift pressure away from the rest of the team. 

He was unflinching in his belief that the U.S. was on the wrong track in 2014 and unapologetic in his desire to give the Americans the best possible chance to succeed.

“There was so much emotion,” said Steve Loy, Mickelson’s long-time manager. “It means so much more after you’ve been on the beat-up side for so long.”

There is still room for improvement as Mickelson moves into his 26th Tour season, specifically with his driving, which he believes can be improved via biomechanics and more work with his swing coach Andrew Getson.

“When I get to driver, something goes off, my leg action isn't quite right,” Mickelson said. “I have a couple of issues that I've got to address and identifying it is the first part.”

At 46, Mickelson is not ready for anything approaching a farewell tour, not in his day-to-day dealings and certainly not at the Ryder Cup. Asked if he was planning to attend the 2018 matches in France as a player or captain, his answer was quintessential Lefty.

“It's been 22 years since there have been 10 Americans that have been able to beat me so I don't know why it would stop now,” said Mickelson, who has never needed to be a captain’s pick. “I plan on being on the team in France and absolutely one of my goals is to play in France because I've never been on a winning Ryder Cup team over in Europe.”

If nothing else, Mickelson’s performance and passion at Hazeltine proves that he cares about the matches more than most realize. It helps explain why 2016 may not have been Lefty’s most successful season, but it certainly was one of his most memorable.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."