Mickelson's short-game work pays off with 66

By Will GrayApril 2, 2015, 8:33 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Hey, we’ve seen this guy before.

You know, the player who saunters around the course brimming with confidence, flashing grins and thumbs-up in equal measure. The guy who exudes comfort on and around the greens, rolling in putt after putt with ease.

Perhaps spurred into action by the calendar’s transition to April, Phil Mickelson appears ready to play some golf.

Mickelson flew into town late Wednesday, and he teed it up in the opening round of the Shell Houston Open without a practice round. Not an issue when your record over the last four years includes a win and no finish worse than T-16.

His thorough course knowledge paid dividends Thursday, as Mickelson opened with a 6-under 66 to grab a spot on the leaderboard, three shots behind Scott Piercy.

“It was a good first round, good start to the tournament,” Mickelson said. “There will be some low scores, but I’m just glad I was one of them.”

Roughly 12 hours after landing in Houston, Mickelson hit the course and quickly got to work. A chip-in birdie on No. 10 was followed by birdies on 12 and 13, and when he curled in a 20-foot putt on No. 17, his eighth hole of the day, Mickelson offered a pair of fist pumps – perhaps the first such display of emotion since last summer at Valhalla.

This was supposed to be a bounceback season for Mickelson, but thus far his results have been much of the same. Six starts have yet to yield a top-10 finish, and his runner-up at last year’s PGA Championship remains the lone bright spot across his last 30 appearances.

Shell Houston Open: Articles, videos and photos

But the Golf Club of Houston appears to be a cure-all for Lefty, just as it was last year when he tied for 12th. While signs of progress were evident last week at the Valero Texas Open, Mickelson struggled around the greens over the weekend and tied for 30th place.

“This is a big week for me. I felt the game was close last week,” he said. “The only thing missing was chipping and short game.”

It was a familiar refrain from Mickelson, whose short-game woes led to missed cuts earlier this year at both TPC Scottsdale and Torrey Pines, two typically Lefty-friendly venues. While most of the field was sweating through practice rounds this week in the humidity, Mickelson was back home in California grinding on his short game.

“I spent three days working on chipping, which I haven’t done in a long time,” he said.

Those efforts yielded immediate results, as his opening chip-in sparked a round that included only 26 putts. Mickelson rolled in six birdie putts, including three over 8 feet. Those makes seemed to be contagious, as his three-ball that also included Hunter Mahan and Patrick Reed combined to shoot 15 under par.

“Phil got off to a great start,” said Mahan, who shot 5-under 67. “I think when you see one or two putts go in, it definitely does help.”

With no shortage of storylines brewing for the Masters – from who will win to who will simply show up – Mickelson’s struggles have nearly made him an afterthought leading into the season’s first major. He is listed at 25/1 to win by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, higher odds than eight other players including five who are in search of their first major.

He last lifted a trophy at the Open Championship nearly two years ago, but that drought has not deterred Mickelson heading into a stretch of the season where he has so often shined. He won this event in 2011, not to mention three wins at the now-defunct BellSouth Classic in the same spot on the calendar.

While next week’s event remains a large goal, he is keenly aware that a run to a fourth green jacket begins now.

“The best way for me to give myself the best chance next week is to get into contention this week,” Mickelson said.

Just as much of the country begins to shed a winter’s worth of snow, Mickelson’s game appears to be heating up right on cue. Players often speak of trying to peak for the four majors each year, but few have been able to do so with as much success or consistency as Mickelson – especially when it comes to this particular two-week stretch.

“It’s fun to start playing well,” he said. “To feel good with the parts of the game and, you know, three more good rounds will give me momentum for next week.”

The Phil Mickelson of old was on full display Thursday, and while it remains to be seen if he can carry this form with him down Magnolia Lane, even the longest journeys begin with a single step.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.