A SoCal Saturday

By Rex HoggardJanuary 30, 2011, 5:43 am

Farmers Insurance OpenSAN DIEGO – Southern California has always admired Tiger Woods for his skill and tenacity more so than his is Left Coast lineage. But on Saturday at Torrey Pines, the epicenter of SoCal golf, it was clear they love Phil Mickelson.

Even a muted Phil, reined in by a golf course that doesn’t shine to his kind of swashbuckling play and a body that is closer to 50 than it is 25, is worth his weight in In-n-Out burgers.

Woods has won at Torrey Pines more than 10 times, from his junior golf days to that sun-splashed June afternoon in 2008 when he limped his way to U.S. Open immortality. But Phil is San Diego like the Chargers and traffic on the “5.”

If golf needs a Tiger Woods recovery, the SoCal golf faithful need a Phil Mickelson reclamation project. On Saturday, before thousands of the faithful, Lefty moved to within 18 holes of giving them their wish.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is co-leader after three rounds at the Farmers Insurance Open. His last victory at Torrey Pines came in 2001 (Getty).

That it took a decade for Mickelson to figure out all the twists and turns of Rees Jones’ 2001 tinkering of the South Course is a debate for another day. Could the learning curve have been accelerated? Sure. Has he been a tad hard-headed coming to terms with the new South, “Sure, absolutely,” he admitted.

The solution, at least through 54 at the Farmers Insurance Open, has been patience and safe play, which – in all honestly – are mutually exclusive to Mickelson’s don’t-play-it-safe DNA.

“I'm not taking on the risk, I'm just playing it much more conservative, because the reward isn't there,” said Mickelson following a third-round 68 that tied him with Bill Haas for the Torrey Pines lead. “This course doesn't reward you for taking on any challenge. And my more conservative approach into the greens, albeit boring, has led me to be on top of the leaderboard.”

Before Jones got in his head and Woods turned Torrey into his professional playground, Phil was the best part of the seaside muni. It was the site of his second Tour victory, and his first as a professional, in 1993 and when he won back-to-back Torrey titles in 2000 and 2001 all seemed right in the SoCal world.

But later that summer Jones started tinkering, and the next year Mickelson missed just his fourth cut at Torrey Pines. Things have not been the same since. At least not until Saturday.

Seventy-nine players made the cut at a golf tournament, but watched on Saturday as a raucous episode of American Idol broke out, complete with a Teen Beat Rickie (Fowler), a bona fide Bubba (Watson) and the Thrill, albeit a somewhat subdued version of the original.

A little longer in the tooth since he won here last, slowed by life and injury, but make no mistake, when firing Mickelson is still “The Thrill,” an “A” ticket ride that demands undivided attention or risk missing something good.

These are the facts, Lefty turned in 33 after birdies at Nos. 1, 4, 7 and 9, made an alignment correction on the fly, carved a 4-iron to a front-left pin at the 16th for birdie and heads into the final round at Torrey Pines with a share of the lead. It’s the first time he’s done that since . . . wait for it, 2000.

In fact, he hasn’t been closer than two shots to the lead through 54 holes since 2001.

Last week, following Woods’ commitment to his event, Farmers Insurance tournament director Tom Wilson admitted, “It’s been a tough couple years for us with the weather and economy and not having Tiger.”

Similarly it’s been a tough couple of years for Mickelson. Rattled by health concerns with his wife and mother, virtually sidelined by a rare form of arthritis last year and a non-story on Sundays following his emotional victory at last year’s Masters, he needed a Torrey Pines boost.

Shortly after his 2010 Masters triumph Lefty flirted with the world’s top ranking, the only accolade that’s eluded him in a Hall of Fame career. But now he’s closer to No. 20 (2.14 average points) than he is No. 1 (2.7).

In many ways, Mickelson needed Torrey Pines and a home-field advantage almost as much as the hordes needed him.

“He’s a hometown boy,” said Watson, who was paired with Mickelson on Saturday. “If we had a tournament in Bagdad, Fla., and no one cheered I’d be upset.”

At the 2008 Torrey Pines Open Mickelson tried to play one of the longest courses in U.S. Open history with no driver in his bag. So far this week he seems to be playing with no worries.

He says it’s the byproduct of a decade of field work on Jones’ handiwork on the South. Perhaps, but a multitude of smiling faces, both known and anonymous, has certainly helped. Among the latter has been Amy Mickelson, a Tour staple for years before cancer kept her from her duties just outside the ropes.

“It's been a lot of fun having Amy out here this week. She just looks terrific. After a year and a half we're in such a better place, and it's been a lot of fun having her out here,” Mickelson said.

As Mickelson exited the 18th green on Saturday, a mob scene reminiscent of the 2008 U.S. Open, the only thing missing from his escape was the Ron Burgundy catch phrase, “Stay classy San Diego.” But then maybe it’s best to save that for Sunday.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.