Mickelson concludes wild week with satisfying win

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2009, 5:00 pm
Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES ' Riviera felt like a roller coaster to Phil Mickelson to the very end.
Never mind the four scores he put together at the Northern Trust Open to successfully defend his title on Sunday. He opened with a personal-best 63 and was nine shots worse the next day. Butch Harmon arrived Saturday morning to help stabilize his swing, and Lefty went even lower with a 62 to take command.
Then came another 1-over 72, and it was just enough to avoid the biggest collapse of his career.
Mickelson rolled in a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory over Steve Stricker, and while it wasnt the most memorable of his 35 career victories on the PGA Tour, it was no less satisfying.
It gives me confidence and something to build on for the rest of the year, Mickelson said. Even when I didnt have my best stuff, I was able to fight through it. That meant a lot to me. I certainly have some work to do. But at least Im on the right path, the right direction. And Im having some success now, even without maybe my best stuff.
Stricker closed with a 67, making bogey on the 18th hole that he knew would cost him.
Another stroke back was the real heartbreak of Riviera ' Fred Couples, 49 and in his last full season on the PGA Tour, rejuvenated on a course where he has won twice and considers his favorite this side of Augusta National. Couples missed two birdies inside 8 feet on the front nine, and trailing by only one shot on the 18th, fanned a shot into the eucalyptus trees and made bogey for a 69.
He tied for third with Andres Romero (70) and K.J. Choi (69).
Mickelson joined Ben Hogan, Corey Pavin and Mike Weir as the only repeat winners at Riviera, and he felt a sense of relief and satisfaction as he hoisted the trophy beneath the fabled clubhouse off Sunset Boulevard.
He was in a position he had never been in during his 17 years on tour, then in a spot that was all too familiar.
Starting the final round with a four-shot lead, Mickelson watched his tee shots fly all over Riviera ' into the trees and a barranca on the right, into trees and the thick rough to the right, and it didnt take long for his cushion to get deflated.
He has never blown a lead that large in his career, but when Stricker made three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, he suddenly had a one-shot lead. Mickelson fell two shots behind when he found the bunker on the par-3 14th and missed a 7-foot par putt, and remained two behind with three holes to play.
I had a five-shot lead, and I let it slide, Mickelson said, alluding to his 40-foot eagle at the start of the round.
The recovery was swift and impressive.
Mickelson hit a strong 9-iron at the flag on the par-3 16th and saw it land 5 feet behind the hole. He made the tricky birdie putt, then hammered his best tee shot of the round on the par-5 17th, allowing him to reach the green with a 3-wood. He two-putted from 70 feet, again making a tough 6-footer down the slope.
That allowed him to regain the lead when Stricker missed out on two opportunities.
Coming off a blown three-shot lead of his own at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, when high wind sent him to a devastating quadruple bogey on the 10th hole in the desert, Stricker was poised to deliver a knockout punch until missing a 12-foot birdie on the 17th.
Then came a hooked tee shot that kept him from reaching the green, and a pedestrian chip that left him 12 feet from the hole for par. He missed that, and suspected it would cost him.
I had a good putt at it, he said of the 18th. But I was really looking to make that one at 17. Its just a little disappointing when you dont finish it off, or have the opportunity to finish it off. And I didnt do it.
Mickelson took a one-shot lead with his birdie on the 17th, but the work was just beginning.
It was only two years ago when he thought he had the tournament wrapped up, leading by one shot on the 18th tee. But he hit his tee shot well left of the fairway, missed the green, made a sloppy bogey and wound up in a playoff that he ended up losing.
Another thing that was important to me was standing on the 18th tee, when two years ago I had a one-shot lead, drove in the rough and made a bogey, Mickelson said. That meant a lot to be able to put that tee shot on the fairway.
It still wasnt easy from there. His 6-iron was just off the green, 60 feet away, and the putt came up 6 feet short.
Stricker was standing on the steps of the clubhouse when he saw what Mickelson had to do for his winning par, and only then did he head for the range. But he wasnt there long. Stricker has been around long enough to know what a big cheer means from around the 18th green, and he put his clubs away.
It was exciting to get into the thick of things, he said.
Couples wasnt sure what to make of his chances. The last time he played in a final group was the 2006 Masters, where Mickelson pulled away late in the round. Adding to the complexity of the week was that his estranged wife, Thais, died Tuesday of breast cancer.
They had been in divorce proceedings for more than three years, and Couples said he is not welcome in their Santa Barbara home. It was hard to detect how emotional the week was; only Couples knows that.
For Mickelson, it was important to get on track before the tour left the West Coast, where he now has won 17 times.
He finished at 15-under 269, moves up to No. 3 in the world ranking and head to Arizona for the Accenture Match Play Championship, where Tiger Woods will return from knee surgery after eight months.
Strangely enough, that was Mickelsons first victory since Woods left.
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    List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

    By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

    List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

    “Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

    “I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

    The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

    “He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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    Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

    Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
    (1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
    (32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
    (38) A. Hadwin
    (48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
    (52) B. Wiesberger
    (60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
    Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
    (5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
    (30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
    (18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
    (46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
    (53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
    Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
    (9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
    (26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
    (33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
    (58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
    Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
    (13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar
    (29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher
    (39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda
    (61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson
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    Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

    By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

    The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

    Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

    Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

    Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

    The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

    Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

    That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

    Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

    Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

    “Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

    Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

    Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

    The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

    With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

    Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

    Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

    It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

    “It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

    Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

    Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

    Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

    Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

    The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

    The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

    Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

    They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.

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    Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

    By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 6:32 pm

    Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

    Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

    Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

    Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

    Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

    Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

    Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

    Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

    Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

    Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

    Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

    Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

    Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

    Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

    Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

    Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.