Past Champs Cant Keep Up with Mickelson

By Associated PressApril 9, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There were so many green jackets chasing Phil Mickelson for a time on the back nine at the Masters that the leaderboard looked more like the champions locker room.
Tiger Woods. Jose Maria Olazabal. Vijay Singh. Fred Couples. Eight titles at Augusta National among them. And not one of them could make a putt when he needed it most Sunday afternoon.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods missed too many putts to repeat as champion.
'As good as I hit it, that's as bad as I putted,' Woods said. 'If I had putted halfway decently, I'd be giving Phil a battle.'
By the end of the day, the parade of former champions couldn't even hold onto second place. That belonged to unheralded Tim Clark, known best as the South African who isn't Ernie Els or Retief Goosen.
Clark finished two strokes behind Mickelson at 5-under 283, while Couples, Olazabal, Woods, Goosen and Chad Campbell were another stroke back at 4 under. Singh tied for eighth at 3 under.
With Mickelson and Couples paired together, and Woods, Singh and Olazabal giving chase, the final round at Augusta National had all the makings of an epic finish.
Woods was seeking his fifth green jacket, with his father battling cancer back in California. Couples was hoping to become the oldest Masters champion ever six months shy of his 47th birthday -- and on the anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' last title, no less.
'I felt this great feeling of accomplishment to be able to beat guys like Tiger and Retief and Ernie and Vijay and Fred,' Mickelson said. 'To come out on top, it's a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.'
For the others, it was an epic bust.
'It's a humbling experience out there, because you're trying so hard,' Couples said. 'I just left too many out there.'
Olazabal, the winner at Augusta National in 1994 and 1999, at least made things interesting. Beginning the final round at 2 over, he had birdies on three of his first four holes to post a 32 on the front side.
'When I looked at the leaderboard and saw how the guys were not making a charge, I thought, `Well, let's see how well I can play the back nine,'' said Olazabal, who played 10 groups ahead of Mickelson.
He shook off a bogey at No. 11 and closed within a shot of the lead with an eagle at the 15th. But he cooled off with a three-putt on the par-3 16th, then had to work to save par on his final two holes.
Woods was dismal on the greens, but at least he was consistent. He flubbed short putts on the front nine and the back nine. He pushed them and pulled them. He never could get his speed right.
He three-putted from 15 feet for bogey on No. 11, and missed a 12-footer for birdie on No. 12. He missed eagle putts inside 15 feet on both Nos. 13 and 15, and couldn't make a 10-footer for birdie on No. 14.
He had three three-putts in all, equaling the first three rounds combined and the most Woods could remember in a single round at Augusta.
'I absolutely lost it out there on the greens,' Woods said. 'I'll probably go snap this putter in about eight pieces.'
Singh played well, but was never spectacular. He was at 4 under by the turn, but couldn't pick up any more ground.
The most disheartening of the collapses was by Couples.
One of golf's most popular players, fans were rooting for him to show a bit of immortality. He has one victory in the last eight years, at the 2003 Shell Open, and he threw away the Nissan Open earlier this year when he had an 8-footer for the lead at No. 13 and left it short, then bogeyed three of the last four holes.
But this was the 20th anniversary of Nicklaus' victory for the aged, his sixth -- and final -- Masters title at age 46. What better way to celebrate it than to have Couples win it, replacing Nicklaus as oldest champion by about three months?
If the ages weren't omen enough, Couples' Masters badge this week -- assigned in order of player registration -- was No. 86, same as the year of Nicklaus' famous charge.
'When I teed off,' Couples said, 'I was, in my mind, one of the four, five, six guys that had a chance to win.'
For a while, it looked as if he just might. A birdie on the first hole pulled him even with Mickelson, and they went birdie-for-birdie on the seventh. He fell a stroke behind on the next hole, then three-putted for a bogey on 11.
He looked as if he might sink even further when his tee shot landed about a foot from the creek on the par-5 13th. But he recovered beautifully, dropping a 4-footer for a birdie for his best putt of the day.
'The back nine, we were telling each other, `Let's make some birdies,'' Couples said.
His hopes died on the next hole. Needing only to make a 4-footer for a birdie, he pushed it about 5 feet past the hole. His par putt rolled right on by, too, and it looked as if he had lost all touch on the greens.
'I'm 46. I don't really feel 46. I didn't hit the ball like I was 46,' Couples said. 'I putted like I was 66. I'm beating myself up, but it just really came down to one minor, minor casualty and that was on 14.
'I mean, I can live and die with three-putting and some of the other stuff,' he added. 'But that really is a putt where it would have been a heck of a lot more fun to make and see what would have happened.'
Instead, the green jacket in his size was put back in the closet. Along with those of the other champions.
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    Schauffele just fine being the underdog

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

    Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

    Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

    Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

    “All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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    Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

    Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

    So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

    Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

    Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    Jordan Spieth: 7/4

    Xander Schauffele: 5/1

    Kevin Kisner: 11/2

    Tiger Woods: 14/1

    Francesco Molinari: 14/1

    Rory McIlroy: 14/1

    Kevin Chappell: 20/1

    Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

    Alex Noren: 25/1

    Zach Johnson: 30/1

    Justin Rose: 30/1

    Matt Kuchar: 40/1

    Webb Simpson: 50/1

    Adam Scott: 80/1

    Tony Finau: 80/1

    Charley Hoffman: 100/1

    Austin Cook: 100/1

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    Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

    For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

    By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

    But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

    As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

    “This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

    Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

    As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

    After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

    “I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

    But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

    Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

    “I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

    There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

    Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

    And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

    As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

    “We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

    Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

    Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

    The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

    Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

    It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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    Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

    One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

    McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

    McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

    “I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”