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.

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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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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.