Good Vibrations

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2008, 5:00 pm
Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES -- Phil Mickelson had played 10 tournaments at Riviera dating to his first appearance 20 years ago as a teenager. Never before had he arrived with such good vibes, mostly because of a minor change that he didn't reveal until he won.
It wasn't his close call last year, when he bogeyed the final hole and lost in a playoff.
Nor was it the playoff loss two weeks ago in Phoenix, a sign that his game was on the right track.
Rather, it was a noise only Lefty could hear.
He switched golf balls this year to a softer cover for more spin, and figured he had made all the adjustments until he struggled with his speed on the greens at Pebble Beach last week, which held him back. That's when he decided to change the insert in his putter.
'When I had putted with the insert I had, it was a quieter sound when the ball was coming off and I couldn't hear it, and I was giving it a little too much,' Mickelson said. 'Consequently, my speed was going well by the hole. By putting in the firmer insert, I was able to hear it, and my speed and touch came back.
'Now I hear it and it feels great.'
The putter was key for Mickelson, who closed with a 1-under 70 for a two-shot victory over Jeff Quinney that gave him yet another PGA TOUR title on the Left Coast.
He now has 33 career victories, with 16 of them in California and Arizona.
But as much as the putter helped Mickelson, it went from a magic wand to a ball-and-chain for Quinney.
He made four straight putts, three of them for birdie, from outside 10 feet that took him from a two-shot deficit to a brief lead and ultimately to a duel alone the final seven holes. But Quinney again had trouble down the stretch.
He bogeyed three straight holes, starting with back-to-back par putts that he missed from 7 feet, that gave Mickelson a two-shot lead and some comfort as he played the final holes. Quinney lost all hope with a three-putt from 20 feet on the par-5 17th, and his 25-foot birdie on the final hole only made it look close.
He shot a 71 for his first runner-up finish in his two years on tour.
'I had two (putts) that I'd like to have back,' Quinney said. 'I just put a little too much pressure on the putter on the back nine.'
Mickelson, meanwhile, was solid throughout the week.
His putting kept momentum in his round of 64 on Friday to seize control, and in his 70 on Saturday to stay in the lead. And after a two-shot swing that gave Quinney the lead on the ninth hole Sunday -- Quinney made a 12-foot birdie, Mickelson missed the green well to the right and made bogey -- Lefty responded with clutch putts.
The first came at the 310-yard 10th hole, where Mickelson hit driver over the green and a flop shot to the skinny part of the green, the ball stopping 6 feet away. Quinney saved par with a 10-foot putt, and Mickelson made his on top of him to tie for the lead.
Mickelson pulled away when Quinney made the first of three straight bogeys, and the tournament turned on the par-3 14th.
Quinney went over the green and chipped 7 feet by the hole. Mickelson hit into a bunker and blasted out to the same distance, a few inches farther away. That meant he went first, and Mickelson poured it in for par.
Quinney missed his, the lead was two shots, the tournament effectively over.
Mickelson didn't make it a clean sweep of the West Coast Swing. He has never won in Hawaii, and only goes to Hawaii on vacation. He has never won the Accenture Match Play Championship, although he gets another shot starting Wednesday.
But he has won at every stop on the West Coast, from the ocean courses of Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach to soggy La Costa Resort to the desert tracks in Phoenix, Palm Springs and Tucson.
'I do enjoy the West Coast,' Mickelson said. 'I'm excited to play golf and I practice very hard on the West Coast when the season is coming around and I haven't played for awhile, I've got a lot of energy and I'm excited to get back out. I think all of these things, plus the fact that I grew up here and used to walk these fairways on the outside, I just have a great love for the West Coast.
'I've been fortunate to play well here.'
It should be no surprise that Riviera took so long.
Until last year, Mickelson had missed the cut four out of eight times, including the 1995 PGA Championship. He loved the look of Riviera, but was confounded by the sticky kikuya grass that could grab the ball as it was approaching the green.
There's an art to his course off Sunset Boulevard, and he was a slow learner.
'I didn't understand the nuances of this golf course, where you can and can't hit it,' he said. 'And learning those nuances and how to hit the shots into some of these greens has helped me over the years. Last year was when I started to put it together, and I'm fortunate to break through this year.'
Sweeter still is having his name on the roll call of a champions, a list that includes Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. And it's a list that doesn't include Tiger Woods, or even Jack Nicklaus.
And now that another victory is in the bag, he's hungry for more.
'It's not quite to where I believe I can get it, but I feel like it's been much better than in the past, so I feel like I'm getting better,' Mickelson said of his game. 'I can taste where I want to get to. But I'm not quite there yet.'
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”