Mickelson optimistic despite post-Open struggles

By Ryan LavnerJuly 14, 2014, 6:00 pm

HOYLAKE, England – For years, Phil Mickelson would arrive at the Open Championship and wonder.

Early on, he wondered if his soaring ball flight and aggressive style would translate to success.

After a few lean years, he wondered if he’d ever play well overseas.

Sometimes, he wondered what the heck he was even doing there, knowing full well that he didn’t have the requisite skills to conquer the most unique test in championship golf.

There’s a different feeling now.

Mickelson knows that he can perform – he did it last year, in back-to-back weeks, and in spectacular fashion, complete with one of the best rounds of his life.

“It takes a lot of pressure off me,” he said Monday here at Royal Liverpool, where he hopes the memories of the most unexpected trophy of his career will help jumpstart a listless year.

Mickelson has just one top-10 worldwide since last September (a span of 20 starts), though he’s shown signs of progress recently, with two T-11 finishes in his last three starts, including last week at the Scottish Open. But not even the ever-optimistic left-hander could put a positive spin on this campaign.

“It obviously hasn’t been a good year,” he said.

That his fortunes could change here seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. The 2013 Open was the most satisfying victory of Mickelson’s long career, something he said at Muirfield and reiterated now, because it was a win he never thought he could achieve. Doing so required a complete overhaul of his swing-from-the-heels game, and over the years Mickelson, for good reason, had been resistant to change – after all, you don’t win 42 times on the PGA Tour by accident.

His breakthrough, though, came in December 2003, when he worked with short-game guru Dave Pelz and learned how to hit wedge shots without spin, how to hit them with the proper ball flight and distance. After years of futility, he had come to understand that this skill was the key to links golf – the harder the swing, the more spin it creates, and the more the wind affects the ball. Now, he takes more club, swings easier and feels as though he is bunting a half shot.

“I’m not fighting it,” he said.

This entire season has been a battle of tug of war, however, and oftentimes he has come out on the losing end.

Mickelson says he’s driving the ball better and more confidently than he ever has, but he ranks 143rd on the PGA Tour in total driving – right around where he has been over the past several years.

He admits that it has not been a good putting year, not by any means, but he is hopeful that his recent work with Dave Stockton will mean more consistent week-in, week-out results on the greens. Maybe so, but the fact remains: He was sixth in putting in 2013. He ranks 133rd this season.

“Normally I would be discouraged or frustrated, but I’m just not,” he said. “I feel like I’ve had some good breakthroughs in some areas. I haven’t had the results; I know I haven’t played well. But the parts feel a lot better than the whole right now.”

He doesn’t know when it will come together – it could be this week, this month, this year – but “it should be soon.”

Mickelson, who turned 44 last month, continues to take the long view. He says that he believes that the next few years will be some of his best. He says that memories of the Open “almost motivate me to work harder and play more, practice even more, because I know there’s a finite amount of time (remaining).”

But if he’s extra-motivated in 2014, then this has to be his most maddening campaign yet. A year after another demoralizing runner-up at the U.S. Open, he geared his entire season toward peaking at Pinehurst. A few early-season injuries set him back, and sloppy play with his driving, wedge game and putting – he’s outside the top 100 in all three statistical categories – kept him from getting into contention before the year’s second major. Not even being back at Pinehurst, where all of his U.S. Open heartbreak began 15 years ago, was enough to resurrect his game. He finished joint 28th.

Nothing can change that result now, and a few weeks ago Mickelson spotted a re-run of the 2013 Open on Golf Channel. He DVR’d the highlights package and has watched it, he said, whenever he needed “a little bit of a confidence boost.”

Well, cue up the footage, because he needs one now, his game stagnating, his world ranking tumbling, his Ryder Cup spot in jeopardy. Fifty-two weeks after his most satisfying victory ever, Phil Mickelson arrives at this Open wondering just one thing:

Can I do it again?

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.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.