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Mickelson's WGC win inspires at Valspar

By Will GrayMarch 7, 2018, 9:00 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Three days after he finally got his hands around the trophy, the effects of Phil Mickelson’s drought-breaking victory are still being felt a country over.

Mickelson isn’t in the field at this week’s Valspar Championship, seemingly one of only a handful of stars who have stayed away from the Copperhead Course as the tournament boasts its best field to date. But that didn’t keep his name out of the news Wednesday, as one player after the next stepped up to the microphone to describe the magnitude of his playoff win over Justin Thomas.

Mickelson’s popularity is not just limited to the throng of fans that follow him at tournaments. So when he finally got back into the winner’s circle after nearly five years, the effect was two-fold: it put the young stars on notice that the Tour’s elder statesman can still hang, and it gave hope to a certain 14-time major champ that time has not yet run out.

Tiger Woods is making his tournament debut this week at Innisbrook, marking his first trip here since a co-ed team event in 1996 – when Thomas, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth were still toddlers. Woods and Mickelson weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy during their respective primes, but they’ve grown closer as the years have passed and Woods was watching Sunday as Mickelson won after a number of recent close calls.

“What Phil is showing us is that can still do it later on in our careers,” Woods said. “Davis (Love III) did it at 51, I believe. Phil is 47. I think Kenny Perry won a handful of events close to 45, 46. So, you know, there are a few guys that can do it late in their career.”

Woods has an entire YouTube library full of tournaments at his disposal where either he or Mickelson left with the trophy, but the perspective is a bit different for the Tour’s younger generation. When Mickelson won The Open in 2013, his most recent victory prior to Sunday, Spieth was still basking in the glow of his breakthrough victory at the John Deere Classic the prior week.

Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth’s youth again shone through when he attempted to compare what Mickelson accomplished to Jack Nicklaus’ Masters win in 1986 at age 46 – only to admit that his perspective on the latter is based entirely on hearsay given that he wasn’t born for another seven years.

“Pretty incredible for a guy who has put family first and certainly backed off the amount of time he’s played, and definitely the amount of work on the course with everything that he has off the golf course,” Spieth said of Mickelson. “To be able to come out and compete at that level consistently, I think that speaks to as much as his win.”

That sentiment was echoed by Rory McIlroy, who eschewed last week’s event in Mexico City for some practice time at Augusta National but still took note of the three-time jacket winner’s latest triumph.

“Good to see Phil win last week. He’s been trending in the right direction,” McIlroy said. “I said yesterday I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about him going into this stage of the season, because it seemed like he was flying under the radar a little bit. He was top 5-ing just for fun.”

McIlroy and Spieth have had plenty of time to watch Mickelson rekindle his game over the recent months, cobbling together top finishes and standout performances in team events before all the pieces fell into place in Mexico. But the player who can perhaps derive the most inspiration from Mickelson’s performance is the one who spent much of Lefty’s winless drought on the disabled list.

Indeed, there was a glint in Woods’ eye as he recounted Mickelson’s performance down the stretch in great detail, a clear indicator that he was tuned in for the tournament’s conclusion where the savvy veteran outlasted the rising star.

“It was a very, very small margin, and what he did on Sunday was very, very cool to watch,” Woods said. “He did it. He put the pressure on Justin in the playoff, put it right there pin-high and hit a beautiful putt. I don’t know how it didn’t go in.”

Woods and Mickelson have carved divergent paths to greatness, intersecting on fewer occasions than their decorated records might suggest. But as they approach the twilight of their careers, gently bridging the gap between Ryder Cup players and potential future captaincies, they have begun to focus more on their similarities than differences.

And while the road to recovery facing Woods remains arduous, watching a longtime peer still more than five years his senior keep the latest crop of young stars at bay for a week could very well have offered a much-needed glimmer of hope at just the right time.

“Seeing Phil win I think was really cool for Tiger to recognize, ‘OK, I’ve got all this time to be able to still get to that high level,’” Spieth said. “I haven’t talked to him about that, but I imagine that’s got to be pretty interesting for him to see, and it helps put things in perspective in how much time he still really does have for the top level. And knowing the nature he’s displayed over the last 20 years, it still wouldn’t be surprising if come Masters time he’s in the hunt on Sunday. That’s pretty amazing to say.”

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”