Mickelson Enters Masters on Major High

By Associated PressApril 7, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The man in the green jacket raved about Phil Mickelson's record at the Masters - seven times in the top 10, no worse than seventh since 1999.
Mickelson saw what was coming and beat everyone to the punch.
'But no wins,' he said.
Then, he reached over and playfully tugged at the sleeve of the Augusta National member sitting next to him.
'I want what you have,' he said. 'I want one of these. Those are nice.'
Getting one has proved to be a major challenge for Mickelson, who comes into the Masters riding a streak - 0-for-42 in the majors - that has come to define an otherwise impeccable career.
No one questions his awesome ability. Mickelson has won 22 times on the PGA Tour, more than any other active player besides Tiger Woods. He is long off the tee and has a short game that even Woods says is the best in golf.
But his lack of a major became even more glaring last year when another Lefty - Mike Weir of Canada - showed the mettle of major champions by making clutch putts down the stretch to win the Masters.
What about Phil?
'I think he's going to win a major championship,' Mark O'Meara said. 'And I think it's going to happen soon.'
Mickelson's hopes are higher than ever this year, and for good reason.
Coming off his worst season on the PGA Tour - so bad that one golf publication failed to list him among the top 30 players going into the year - Mickelson looks stronger than ever.
He refused to start practicing until Jan. 1 to emphasize that last year was behind him, then came out of the blocks by winning the Bob Hope Classic and getting into Sunday contention every time he has played.
He has toned down his swing, costing him some 15 yards off the tee that he could afford to lose in exchange for playing out of the fairway. He is controlling his irons with three-quarter shots instead of swinging from the heels.
'Phil, he's probably played the best out of the whole lot,' Ernie Els said.
This might be the place for Mickelson to prove it.
Mickelson is so serious about this year's Masters that he came to Augusta National last week for two practice rounds. He identified his problems the last three years - all of them third-place finishes - by working with coaches Rick Smith and Dave Pelz to figure out where he can save a shot per round.
'I certainly feel like I have a very good chance,' Mickelson said. 'I've played very consistently, which is something I didn't do last year. I have a lot more confidence that I'll be there come the weekend. I'm playing well enough to get into contention without having to do anything extraordinary.'
It all starts to unfold Thursday in a Masters that is far different from a year ago.
The storms have passed - not only the rain that turned the course into a soft and soggy mess, but the cloud of controversy over the all-male membership at Augusta National.
'I really think the American public is ready for us to talk about golf,' club chairman Hootie Johnson said Wednesday when asked about Martha Burk's campaign to get a woman into the club.
The course has never been this firm and fast since officials beefed it up two years ago by adding some 300 yards. The last time it was this crusty and dry was in 1999. Legend has it the sun used to shine under players' feet because their spikes couldn't penetrate the turf.
'This is what we've been looking for,' Johnson said. 'I couldn't predict a score, but I think it will be pretty tough out there if the course stays in the same condition.'
One reason so many people consider Mickelson a strong favorite is because Woods, a three-time champion, doesn't appear to be on top of his game.
'I don't know if he's not playing well now or he just is waiting for the majors,' Vijay Singh said. 'I just speak for the rest of the guys. I think our play has gone a step higher, and that's closed the gap - if there was one.'
Mickelson looks poised to close the gaping hole in his resume.
Only two other players in PGA Tour history have won more than Mickelson without capturing a major - Harry 'Lighthorse' Cooper (31 victories) and MacDonald Smith (24).
Mickelson is undeniably the best player to have never won a major, but there is some question whether he can be considered a great player without one.
'A guy like Mickelson, you would like to think he's a great player,' said Els, a two-time U.S. Open and British Open champion. 'At the end of the day, you look at major championships. That's how you really gauge yourself.'
The gap between Mickelson and Woods was made clear by the work of their publicists.
Woods' camp puts out a package of his career results, with a cover photo of Woods posing with an array of major championship trophies and a headline that says, 'How He Did It.'
Mickelson's people put out two pages of his major results that showed how he hasn't.
There is no shame in Mickelson having not won a major. He is only 33, just coming into this prime. Woods once noted that Ben Hogan was 35 when he won his first major. Hogan ended his career with nine majors, 'and he had an accident in there somewhere,' Woods said.
The surprise is that Mickelson has never even led after three rounds in a major. His two closest calls were the 1999 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart made a 15-foot par on the last hole; and 2001 PGA Championship, when David Toms made a 12-footer for par on the 18th.
'I don't judge myself harshly in the fact I haven't won one,' Mickelson said. 'If I thought it was a negative that I had not won, I think I would dread those events more than I would look forward to them. I just get so excited to be here. I can't wait for Thursday to start, and hopefully have another chance at breaking through.'
Related links:
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    Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

    By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

    Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

    She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

    Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

    After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

    “The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

    Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

    It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

    “I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

    Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    “The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

    Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

    It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

    “I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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    Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

    CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

    The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

    ''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

    She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

    ''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

    Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

    ''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

    Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

    Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

    Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

    ''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

    She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

    ''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

    Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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    DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

    AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

    Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

    “He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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

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

    Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

    The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

    It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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    Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

    BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

    Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

    ''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

    He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

    Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

    ''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

    Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

    ''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

    Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

    ''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

    Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

    Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

    Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.