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.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.