Mickelson caps his week with win at HSBC Champions

By Associated PressNovember 9, 2009, 9:10 am

SHANGHAI (AP)—Phil Mickelson eased through a crush of spectators and into acourtesy van, telling them he would sign autographs in front of the SheshanInternational clubhouse after he had a chance to eat.

His plate of food gone, he took one last swig of his soda, rose from thetable and said, “Let’s go see who’s waiting.”

Hardly anyone had left.

Mickelson proved to be as popular in Shanghai as he is in the States. Hesaid all the right things at the opening press conference about hisresponsibility to play in China to help grow the game, and the two golf projectshe is building with an emphasis on teaching and attracting kids and theirfamilies.

Phil Mickelson of the U.S. fla…
AP - Nov 8, 6:57 am EST

He saved his best work for Sunday in the HSBC Champions.

First, he quickly dispatched of Tiger Woods and all the buzz over the latestbattle between the world’s top two players, expanding a two-shot to six over thefront nine. Then, he rallied to beat another familiar foe, Ernie Els , withtimely putts in the final hour.

Mickelson wound up with the perfect finish to his week—and his year.

He closed with a 3-under 69 for a one-shot victory over Els, his fourthvictory of the year, and joined Woods as the only players to capture two WorldGolf Championship events in the same year. Mickelson won the CA Championship atDoral in the spring.

This one won’t count in the PGA Tour record book—at least not yet.

It sure felt that way to Mickelson, who finished at 17-under 271 and atleast can have the $1.2 million show up in his bank account.

“I think it would be great if it would count, but it doesn’t take away fromthe fact that I beat 15 of the 20 best players in the world, and the gratifyingfeeling of having this trophy,” he said.

He expected to work hard for this victory, although he would not haveimagined the lead characters.

Mickelson started the final round with a two-shot lead over Woods and NickWatney . Anticipation was so great that thousands of fans created a bottleneck atthe entrance, and nearly 8,000 spectators lined both sides of the opening hole.

Woods, however, soon became little more than a spectator himself.

He missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the second hole that would have cutMickelson’s lead to one shot. With Mickelson 3 feet away for birdie on thethird, Woods missed from 10 feet. Then came the par-3 fourth, where Woods pulledhis tee shot into a canal.

And on the seventh, Woods flinched at the sound of several camera shuttersand pushed his drive into a plugged lie in the bunker. A birdie hole soon becamea scramble for bogey, and Woods suddenly was six shots behind.

He made three straight birdies starting at No. 9, but by then it was simplytoo late. Woods hit one last shot into the water on the 18th, scrambled forbogey and wound up with a 72 to tie for sixth place, five shots behind.

Woods, who shot worse than Mickelson both times they played together infinal rounds this year, chalked it up to a day in which nothing went right forthe world’s No. 1 player.

“I didn’t really envision shooting even par today,” Woods said. “The guystook it deep, and I didn’t.”

Els was on the verge of a course record—10 under through 17 holes—andwas leading by one shot with his ball safely in the 18th fairway, 218 yardsaway, when he hit 5-wood into the water for a bogey that gave him a 63.

“But I can’t think about that,” Els said, who started the round sevenshots behind. “For me to come back all the way, to actually share the lead atthat point, was quite nice. I’m disappointed about that, but I’m going to reallythink about the 63 I shot.”

Mickelson was too groups behind Els, one shot behind and on the ropes.Facing a risky flop shot, the blade of his 60-degree wedge slid under the ball—a whiff. Then, he tried to run his third shot up the green and it barely madeit. Looking at bogey, Mickelson knocked in an 18-foot par putt that he calledhis best in a long time.

Then came a 10-foot birdie on the par-3 17th, and the tournament was in thebag.

“I think we all expected that Tiger and myself would be shooting in themid-60s and pull away a little bit,” Mickelson said. “And yet, our group wasnot making any birdies. It was the groups in front of us. And I was veryfortunate to come out on top by a shot. But this feels terrific, because I hadto fight very hard throughout the day. Nothing came easy.”

Mickelson left with the trophy in his hands and an emerging golf nation inhis back pocket.

“The galleries were much bigger than the past two years, and I’m veryexcited to see that people in China are getting excited about golf,” Mickelsonsaid. “The people here in China have been so nice to me.”

He returns next year as defending champion—his second HSBC Champions titlein three years—with many more trips along the way. Mickelson has a coursesouth of Beijing called “The World Course,” which will include an academyprogram he started with former swing coach Rick Smith and a golf museum.

He also is building another golf complex, which includes a par 3, inKunming.

“I hope that this win will help the golf courses that I’m designing, andthe academies that I am putting up here with Rick Smith, because I want to helpgrow the game,” Mickelson said. “And the people that were out here today, Iwant to have an opportunity for them to be able to play.”

They only watched on Sunday, and most of them liked what they saw.

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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.”