If this is it, Prez Cup a fitting swan song for Mickelson

By Will GraySeptember 30, 2017, 9:40 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Under cloudy skies with a brisk breeze starting to sweep across Liberty National Golf Club, Phil Mickelson stood to the side of the 17th green and took it all in.

He and Kevin Kisner had just polished off a closely-contested match against Jhonattan Vegas and Emiliano Grillo. Kisner tugged at his partner’s arm, imploring him to turn around for a quick on-camera interview as the players in the next match approached the putting surface. But Mickelson’s attention was elsewhere.

“Yeah,” Mickelson said. “That’s gonna have to wait.”

And with that, he turned away from one camera lens and toward another. He put one arm around his wife, Amy, and a second around his brother-turned caddie, Tim. The trio was flanked by Mickelson’s two youngest children, 15-year-old Sophia and 14-year-old Evan.

After capping an unbeaten team performance in his 12th – and perhaps final – Presidents Cup appearance, Mickelson had earned a brief reprieve from media obligations. It was picture time.

“My kids are at an age where they appreciate these moments now,” Mickelson said. “They couldn’t understand what it meant when they were little. Now that they’re teenagers, for them to share these moments means a lot to me.”

After 23 straight years representing the U.S. in annual team competitions, Mickelson’s record already has plenty of decoration. He entered this week with more Presidents Cup points than any American, and his win with Kisner Saturday was his record 25th match victory – one more than Tiger Woods.

But the growth of his family over his career serves as a more personal marker of just how much time has passed as the 47-year-old inches closer to the twilight of his playing career.

When Mickelson made his Presidents Cup debut at age 24 in 1994, he was the only player on the U.S. roster under age 30. He played that week on a team captained by Hale Irwin, and he paired three times with Tom Lehman.

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He and Amy were also still two years away from tying the knot, and it would be five more years before Mickelson’s “you’re going to be a father” moment with Payne Stewart on the 18th green at Pinehurst. The same man who teed it up as a bachelor in his team debut couldn’t wait to hug his daughter after Kisner holed the winning 7-footer Saturday.

“I think about it more as experiences rather than records,” Mickelson said. “I have a lot of experiences, and those are the things that I really cherish.”

As he stood there next to his family and basked in the glow of another age-defying performance, it seemed fair to wonder whether this week could be his swan song as a player in this emotionally-charged environment. He insists that making the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris remains “a big goal,” but he also hasn’t won a tournament in four years and didn’t sniff qualifying automatically for this year’s team.

Father Time remains undefeated, as the assistant captains on either side of the ledger can attest, and Mickelson’s immediate move toward family photo hour may have tipped his hand.

If this weekend is it, he wants to savor the moment with those he loves the most.

“When they look at me like I’m cool, it means a lot,” Mickelson said, locking eyes with Sophia as his voice wavered a hint of emotion. “You know what I mean. As a dad, when your kids look at you a certain way, it means a lot.”

While his inclusion on this week’s team wasn’t much of a surprise, his ability to contribute was hardly a sure thing. Mickelson struggled for much of the summer, enduring a caddie switch and missed cuts in the season’s final two majors.

But on cue, he seems to bring out his best stuff in team match-play settings, regardless of incoming form. In fact, his record in the last three team competitions – two of which saw him added as a captain’s pick – is now a stout 7-1-3.

This time he took Kisner under his wing as a rookie, and the two combined for a 2-0-1 record. It was an unexpected mix of a California product and a self-described “South Carolina redneck,” but one that oozed confidence from the start.

“Having been able to come down the stretch with him, and to see how well he performs under the gun, is unbelievable,” Kisner said. “I’ll always look back and think about who I played with. Nobody can ever take that from me. I played with a Hall-of-Famer, and we did great together. No matter what happens in my future, that will always be something I look at.”

Kisner is simply the latest player who can attest to the rejuvenating effect team match play has on Mickelson, a lengthy list that includes everyone from Jay Haas to Anthony Kim. The pair offered one of the highlights of the tournament with an impromptu “Three Amigos” dance after Mickelson clinched their Friday fourballs win.

“They’ve been giggling the entire time,” Amy Mickelson said. “Giggles for a week, these two.”

Asked to assess his partner’s performance after seeing it up close and personal for three straight days, Kisner simply shook his head and offered a wry grin.

“If Bones was still caddying, I’d really be spinning. But at least Tim is just like, ‘Whatever,’” Kisner said. “They’re going through ‘Pelz’ and draws, and trying to hit 126 (yards). I’m like, ‘Man, it’s blowing 30 (mph) and it’s 40 degrees. Who knows how far you’re going to hit it?’ Then he hits it to 4 feet, and I can’t say anything about it.”

Such is the magic Mickelson seems to conjure simply by showing up and donning the red, white and blue.

After putting another point on the board, and before embarking on an afternoon as cheerleader and selfie star with Kisner and Rickie Fowler, Mickelson rode the wave of his latest performance and posed with family to commemorate the occasion.

“Maybe towards the end I’ll look back, and I’ll look back at the highlights and the many moments,” Mickelson said. “But right now, I’m just trying to create more.”

He’ll have another chance to do just that during Sunday’s singles session, with the outcome of this Presidents Cup no longer in doubt, and perhaps a few more in the years to come. But should his participation streak fail to reach Year 24, should the shadow of Lady Liberty be the last place he hits a shot for his country, this would certainly serve as a fitting conclusion.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.