At 43, Phil captures British with best golf of career

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2013, 9:07 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – After capping the best round of his career with another birdie, and with both arms still thrust into the air, Phil Mickelson floated toward a misty-eyed Jim “Bones” Mackay.

“I did it,” Mickelson said, wrapping his arms around his trusty caddie of more than 20 years.

He had captured a major title in his 40s.

He had transformed his game to win the British Open.

He had rebounded from the most devastating loss of his career.

And he had done so with epic Lefty flair – with birdies on four of his last six holes for a 5-under 66 and a three-shot victory that cemented his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats, as a complete player.

“After you work with a guy for 21 years,” Mackay said near the clubhouse afterward, “it’s pretty cool when you see him play the best round of golf he’s ever played in the last round of the British Open.”

At 43, Mickelson says he’s playing and putting as well as he ever has, if not better. He’s managing his arthritis, and he’s as strong, fit and title-hungry as he was back in his days at Arizona State. “He really, really wants it,” Mackay said. “You can’t underestimate how much he wants to compete and do well.”

But Mickelson readily admits that even he had doubts, that he wasn’t sure that winning the Open was in his future. Doing so would require an evolution of his swing-from-the-heels style, adding an arsenal of shots to a Hall of Fame game that has already notched 40-plus wins on the PGA Tour.   

Each year he turns up at the Masters believing that he’s going to win. Same at the U.S. Open, where he is a record six-time runner-up. But over the years, the British Open has proved far more elusive. In his first nine tries at the Open as a pro, he finished no better than 11th.

“Of the four majors,” said his wife, Amy, “he hasn’t necessarily thought of himself as able to conquer this.”

That mentality began to shift in 2004 at Royal Troon, where after an opening 73 Mickelson shot three consecutive rounds in the 60s and fell one shot out of the playoff.

It was emboldened two years ago at Royal St. George’s, where he played a flawless front nine Sunday before being blown away late en route to a T-2 finish.

And it was reinforced, finally, during his playoff victory last week at Castle Stuart in firm-and-fast conditions.

“The big thing for Phil is that he’s learned to embrace links golf,” said his swing coach, Butch Harmon. “He learned how to put the ball down on the ground and play more under control.”

A few days ago, over breakfast, daughter Sophia asked her father:

If you’re at a course that is difficult for you, and if you’re not going to win, is it better to miss the cut and go home, or to keep trying to figure it out?

His answer: Always keep playing, especially in preparation for this major, because any chance to gain more experience in the elements, hitting and creating new shots, can help you learn how to win.

Sure enough, Mickelson was five shots down with 18 holes to go and still believed he could win, despite posting just a pair of top 10s in 17 previous Open appearances. In fact, before he kissed the family goodbye and left their rented house on Sunday, he told Amy: “I’m gonna go get me a claret jug today.”

Starting the day at 2 over, Mickelson made birdies on Nos. 9 and 13 to move back to even for the tournament, then reeled off birdies on 14, 17 and 18 to seal the three-shot victory over Henrik Stenson

Most impressive, however, may have been Lefty’s gritty par save on the 16th. His tee shot landed on the green about 20 feet short of the flag, but the ball kept creeping toward the front of the green and eventually rolled all the way down the left side. Assessing his options, he calmly told Bones, “I can get this up-and-down,” and, indeed, he clipped his pitch shot off the baked-out turf and sank a slippery 8-footer to stay one shot clear.

A hole later, Mickelson launched back-to-back 3-woods – that club, he says, has “altered my career” – on the par 5 and two-putted from 30 feet to take a two-shot cushion to the final hole. For good measure, his 6-iron from 185 yards gathered 10 feet behind the hole, and he buried the putt to punctuate “one of the best rounds of my career.”

Standing on the 18th green, Amy Mickelson compared the overwhelming emotions to the 2004 Masters, when Phil broke through after going 0-for-42 in golf’s biggest events.

“But this is a different kind of meaningful,” she said. “We were just staring at (the trophy), like, your name is on the claret jug. It’s very surreal, and I think it might be the most meaningful to him, because it’s the most unexpected.”

Not least because of what transpired five weeks ago at Merion.

It was Mickelson’s most crushing defeat in a career that has seen its share of high-profile flameouts. Late bogeys on 13, 15 and 18 that Sunday extended his own record of six runners-up at the year’s second major, the one he most desperately wants to win.

That close call hurt even worse than the ’06 Open at Winged Foot, where he didn’t truly expect to win, not after hitting only two fairways on Sunday.

For two days last month, Mickelson “didn’t really get out of bed,” Amy said. “Totally a shell (of himself). That’s not like him.”

Thankfully, on Wednesday after the Open, the Mickelsons were off to Montana for a planned vacation with four other families. Rafting. Zip lining. Fly-fishing. Archery. Every day was jam-packed with activities, meaning there was no time to mope or dwell on what could have been.

At that moment, Mickelson knew that his 2013 season was a critical juncture.

“It could have easily gone south,” he said, “where I was so deflated that I had a hard time coming back. But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career. And I didn’t want it to stop me from potential victories this year, and some potential great play.”

After a missed cut at The Greenbrier, Mickelson was thoroughly impressive at the Scottish Open in winning in Europe for the first time in two decades. And now, after early rounds of 69-74-72, and a near-flawless Sunday performance, Mickelson joins the roster of Hall of Famers who have hoisted the claret jug at Muirfield.

“This is just a day and a moment that I will cherish forever,” he said. “This is a really special time, and as fulfilling a career accomplishment as I could ever imagine.”

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:

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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."